Marmolada, two years after the tragic collapse: the situation today and possible future scenarios

At 1.43pm on July 3, 2022 a lock of the Marmolada glacier near Rock Point It collapsed for about 2.3 km, causing an avalanche of 64,000 tons of ice, snow and rock debris at a speed of at least 180 km/h onto a trail where hikers were walking, causing 11 victims and 8 injuredIt was about the worst mountain tragedy in Italy in recent years. After months of investigation it was ascertained that the cause of the collapse was the high temperature which caused a layer of liquid water to melt between the glacier and the mountain, which acted as a lubricant, facilitating the movement of the ice and its detachment. For this reason, and because there were no signs of an imminent collapse, the Court of Trento established that the tragedy was «unpredictable» and that therefore there was no human responsibility in the tragedy. But what is the state of health of the glacier today? And can we expect other collapses of this type in the future?

The situation at Marmolada today: the attention zone and monitoring

After the tragic accident on July 3, 2022, the collapse area has been classified as a precaution red zone until November 2022, when the red zone was revoked and the Autonomous Province of Trento established a attention zone on the northern side of the mountain. Today the paths are open and accessible to climbers and tourists.

Following the tragedy, ice monitoring in the area is constant due to the risk of further collapses. For monitoring, special radars have been developed that can detect the presence of liquid water beneath the ice mass. The technology is similar to that used by the European Space Agency for the JUICE mission, which will use precision radar to detect possible liquid water beneath the crust of Jupiter’s icy moons.

Collapses of rocks like the one on July 3, 2022 are relatively frequent in glaciers, they are closely linked to the typology of glacier, to its morphology, and without a doubt they are amplified from the progressive rising temperatures. On the other hand, compared to landslides or avalanches, forecasts are much more difficult because they do not depend directly on weather conditions. Therefore we cannot know if and when there will be new collapses to Marmolada, but the current conditions do not allow us to exclude this eventuality.

The health status of the Marmolada glacier

Unfortunately, the health of the glacier is rather poor: the reduction of the glacial mass continues at a sustained and increasing rate: if between 1902 and 1906 there was talk of a withdrawal of approximately half a meter per yearthis value between 1971 and 2015 it went to about 10 meters per yearThe main cause of this increase is the global warmingto which Alpine glaciers are particularly sensitive. Specifically, the average increase in temperature in that area of 1.5 °C. As reported by the Italian Glaciological Committee, if the climate situation continues at this rate, it is likely to expect the glacier to disappear. before 2040. Even if the volume of the glacier were to decrease less than expected, it would still be very unlikely that it could survive. beyond 2060.

marmolada glacier 2024

The role of climate change

The Marmolada glacier It is considered by experts to be very important for the study of climate changegiven its sensitivity to changes in temperature And rainfall. An important aspect to underline is that if on the one hand theglobal average temperature increase unequivocally increases the frequency And the intensity of extreme phenomena, we cannot attribute with certainty the single event to this cause. In other words, we cannot clearly say “2022 crash was caused by climate change“, nor that a possible future collapse will be. What we can say, instead, is that if we look at the data of the last century we can predict a increase of phenomena of this type.