By Associated Press
Italy is in the grips of a weeks-long heat wave, and Alpine rescuers said that the temperature at the glacier’s altitude last week topped 10 C (50 F) when usually it should hover around freezing at this time of year.
What exactly caused a pinnacle of the glacier to break off and thunder down the slope at a speed estimated by experts at around 300 kph (nearly 200 mph), wasn’t immediately known.
But high temperatures were widely cited as a factor.
“The atmosphere and climate, especially below 3,500 meters, is at a complete imbalance thanks to the ‘new’ climate that we’ve been registering, and unfortunately these events are probably destined to repeat themselves in the coming years,” said Renato Colucci from the Institute of Polar Sciences in the state-run Council of National Research (CNR).
Jacopo Gabrieli, another glacier expert with CNR, told state television that the long heat wave, spanning May and June, was the hottest in northern Italy in that period for nearly 20 years — “absolutely an anomaly.”
Operators of rustic shelters along the mountainside said temperatures at the 2,000-meter (6,600 foot) level recently reached 24C (75 F) – unheard of in a place where excursionists go in summer to keep cool.
The glacier, in the Marmolada range, is the largest in the Dolomite mountains in northeastern Italy. People ski on it in the winter. But the glacier has been rapidly melting away over the past decades, with much of its volume gone.
The Mediterranean basin, which includes southern European countries like Italy, has been identified by U.N. experts as a “climate change hot spot,” likely to suffer heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences.
Pope Francis, who has made care of the planet a priority of his papacy, tweeted an invitation to pray for the avalanche victims and their families.
“The tragedies that we are experiencing with climate change must push us to urgently search for new ways that are respectful of people and nature,” Francis wrote.