Climate Change: Monitoring of Swiss Glaciers Assured

The long-term systematic monitoring of Switzerland’s glaciers is now assured. The responsible actors from scientific institutes and the administration signed agreements governing the glacier monitoring in Bern today. As a result, 105 glaciers will be monitored in the long term. The related data for the fields of climate, water, natural hazards and the environment will be made available to a wide audience on an internet platform. The glaciers have been melting for decades due to climate warming, therefore their monitoring is very important.

Gletscher: Sämtliche Gletscher im Nationalparkgebiet sind im Verlauf der vergangenen 100 Jahre verschwunden
Image: B. Schädler

The main aim of the monitoring, which is carried out through a glacier measurement network, is to document long-term and regional changes in Switzerland’s glaciers. The following elements are measured: changes in glacier length, glacier mass balance, changes in volume, glacier surface area, rate of ice flow and ice temperature. The measurements demonstrate, for example, the extent of the losses in length and thickness suffered by the Rhône Glacier (canton of Valais) in summer and autumn 2015 (see enclosure).

Given that the impacts of the temperature and humidity are visible on glaciers, these glacier measurement data, which are provided by different partners and collated on an internet platform, can be used as a climate indicator. The data are also used in the areas of water management and hazard prevention (e.g. advance warnings of glacier calving). They are also available to the public. The web-based glacier portal will be developed gradually from 2016.

Valuable data highlight changes

The GLAcier Monitoring in Switzerland (GLAMOS) network has existed since the 19th century. The surveying of the Rhône Glacier started in 1874 and the monitoring has been extended and systematised since then. Over 100 glaciers are surveyed annually today.

With its 140-year-plus measurement series, GLAMOS is one of the world’s oldest glacier measurement networks and makes an important contribution to the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). Previous GLAMOS findings have contributed to a globally unique database on glacier changes in Switzerland.

Representatives of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss) and the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) signed the agreements for the monitoring of glaciers throughout Switzerland on 26 November 2015. The Cryospheric Commission of the Swiss Academy of Sciences (CC/SCNAT) is responsible for the coordination and strategic planning of the monitoring.

The operation of the GLAMOS network is led by the university partners: the Glaciology Division of the Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology, ETH Zurich (VAW/ETHZ), the Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg (UNIFR) and the Department of Geography, University of Zurich (UZH). The cantonal authorities and third parties also contribute to the data collection. The annual costs of the systematic monitoring of the glaciers in the Swiss Alps total CHF 406,000 and are borne by the partners.


  • Glacier
  • Mountain glacier