Shrinking Swiss glacier shows climate change in action

Updated 02 October 2013
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Shrinking Swiss glacier shows climate change in action

The hour-long walk from the local railway station to the Morteratsch glacier is a winding trek through a valley littered with rocks that the retreating ice left behind.
The walk was not always this long. In the mid-19th century, the Morteratsch glacier stretched all the way to the station in this hamlet in southeastern Switzerland.
By 1900, people had to walk about a kilometer to touch its shimmering blue surface.
In the past century, the ice has shrunk around 2.4 kilometers, and signposts marking the glacier’s “tongue” over the past century point to a decline that in recent years has accelerated dramatically.
“Each year we come here, we have to walk further to get to the glacier,” said Joerg Wyss, a 43-year-old tourist from Lucerne, who said he had been visiting Morteratsch for 25 years.
Ursula Reis, a 73-year-old from Zurich, said she had been coming for even longer, visiting almost every year since 1953.
“I have seen the shrinkage. It’s amazing and frightening at the same time,” she said.
As closely studied by scientists as it is loved by the Swiss, the Morteratsch glacier provides one of the clearest examples of climate change in action, experts say.
Like almost all documented Alpine glaciers, it has been steadily shrinking for decades, and only its highest points are expected to see the turn of the next century.
“The glaciers are kind of a direct signal of climate change,” said Samuel Nussbaumer, a scientist with the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich.
Since 1950, the glacier has shrunk by about 1.6 kilometers. Its tip today is hidden in a forest of high trees, and even the 2010 signpost is separated by a good 200 meters (yards) of rocks from the glacier mouth, which emits gushing meltwater into an icy river.
“This is one part of the Morteratsch glacier where you can really see how fast the ice is melting away,” said glacier guide Gian Luck, standing in a rock-strewn area that only three years ago was still covered with a system of ice caves, before they suddenly collapsed and disappeared.
A 2011 report from the European Topic Center on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation, a consortium of institutes known by its acronym of ETC/ACM, found that more than half of the ice-covered areas and probably two-thirds of the ice volume in the Alps had disappeared since 1850.
From 2000 to 2010, the Alpine glaciers on average lost more than a meter of thickness each year, according to the study.
“They are shrinking, and the rate of shrinkage is increasing,” Nussbaumer said, adding that while factors like precipitation and wind played a part, rising temperatures were the main explanation.
Glaciers cover some 2,900 square kilometers in the Alps, including 1,342 square kilometers in Switzerland alone.
Scientists have warned that a summer temperature increase of around four degrees Celsius from today’s levels would leave Europe’s biggest mountain range almost ice-less by 2100.
The Alps, like the Arctic and the Antarctica Peninsula, are considered a hot-spot where warming can be two or three times greater than the global average.
“These ice giants could disappear literally in the space of a human lifetime, or even less,” said Sergio Savoia, who heads conservation group WWF’s Alpine office in Switzerland, stressing the need to “prepare for the serious consequences.”
Globally, glaciers are one of the main contributors to sea level rise, and their contribution to shrinking shore lines is believed to have doubled in recent decades.
An eagerly-awaited UN report on global warming, set to be released in Stockholm next Friday, will for the first time include detailed estimates for melting ice from glaciers and ice sheets in its calculation of sea level rise.
The issue of rising sea levels is not as relevant to the Alps though. If all of the region’s glaciers melted, this would add only about one millimeter to ocean levels, scientists say.
Locally, though, the effects would be dramatic.
The thick ice cover functions as a water tower that stores water, releasing it when it is most needed — in the hot and dry summer months.
The Alpine glaciers feed into some of Europe’s biggest river systems, including the Rhone, Po and Danube, and if this source disappeared, the effects would be felt across Europe, said Savoia.
“It’s very hard to predict what will happen when the temperatures rise even more and we no longer have the compensating function of the glaciers,” he said.
Melting glaciers can also cause natural hazards, ripping open crevasses, creating glacier lakes that can burst suddenly and increasing the risk of flash floods, landslides and mudslides.
While the effects of the vanishing Alpine glaciers will mainly be felt locally, only global action to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide can truly slow down the trend, Savoia said.
Swiss attempts to cover parts of glaciers with canvas to slow the melting are “a very visual way of declaring our powerlessness,” he said.
Guenther Baldauf, a 45-year-old German visiting Morteratsch for the first time, expressed awe when he finally reached the glacier tongue.
“You walk and you walk, past sign after sign saying ‘Here was the glacier. I was here,’ but everything is green,” he said. “Then suddenly, it is there, and it is really big. It’s ice and water, but it’s alive. It’s like a dinosaur, dying.”


Army splits with West Point grad who touted communist revolt

In this May 2016 photo provided by Spenser Rapone, Rapone displays a shirt bearing the image of socialist icon Che Guevara under his uniform, after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. (AP)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Army splits with West Point grad who touted communist revolt

  • “I would encourage all soldiers who have a conscience to lay down their arms and join me and so many others who are willing to stop serving the agents of imperialism and join us in a revolutionary movement”
  • Less than a year after Rapone’s images drew a firestorm of vitriol and even death threats, the second lieutenant who became known as the “commie cadet” is officially out of the US Army with an other-than-honorable discharge

WATERTOWN, New York: The images Spenser Rapone posted on Twitter from his West Point graduation were intentionally shocking: In one, the cadet opens his dress uniform to expose a T-shirt with a blood-red image of socialist icon Che Guevara. In another, he raises his fist and flips his cap to reveal the message: “Communism will win.”
Less than a year after Rapone’s images drew a firestorm of vitriol and even death threats, the second lieutenant who became known as the “commie cadet” is officially out of the US Army with an other-than-honorable discharge.
Top brass at Fort Drum accepted Rapone’s resignation Monday after an earlier reprimand for “conduct unbecoming of an officer.” Rapone said an investigation found he went online to advocate for a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers. Officially, the Army said in a statement only that it conducted a full investigation and “appropriate action was taken.”
An unrepentant Rapone summed up the fallout in yet another tweet Monday that showed him extending a middle finger at a sign at the entrance to Fort Drum, accompanied by the words, “One final salute.”
“I consider myself a revolutionary socialist,” the 26-year-old Rapone told The Associated Press. “I would encourage all soldiers who have a conscience to lay down their arms and join me and so many others who are willing to stop serving the agents of imperialism and join us in a revolutionary movement.”
Rapone said his journey to communism grew out of his experiences as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan before he was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy. And those views only hardened during his studies of history as one of the academy’s “Long Gray Line.”
He explained that he took the offending selfies at his May 2016 West Point graduation ceremony and kept them to himself until last September, when he tweeted them in solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was taking heat for kneeling for the national anthem to raise awareness of racism. Many other military personnel also tweeted in favor of Kaepernick, although most were supporting free speech, not communism.
West Point released a statement after Rapone posted the photos, saying his actions “in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army.” And U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, called on the secretary of the Army to remove Rapone from the officer ranks.
“While in uniform, Spenser Rapone advocated for communism and political violence, and expressed support and sympathy for enemies of the United States,” Rubio said Monday, adding “I’m glad to see that they have given him an ‘other-than-honorable’ discharge.”
One of six children growing up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Rapone said he applied to West Point, which is tuition-free, because he couldn’t afford college. He was nominated out of high school by then-U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire in 2010.
“He was an honors student, an athlete, a model citizen who volunteered in the community,” recalled Altmire, a Democrat. “During the interview, he expressed patriotism and looked just like a top-notch candidate. There were no red flags of any kind.”
But he wasn’t accepted to West Point, so Rapone enlisted in the Army. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was assigned as an assistant machine gunner in Khost Province.
“We were bullies in one of the poorest countries on Earth,” Rapone said. “We have one of the most technologically advanced militaries of all time and all we were doing is brutalizing and invading and terrorizing a population that had nothing to do with what the United States claimed was a threat.”
Toward the end of his deployment, he learned West Point fulfills a certain quota of enlisted soldiers every year. Despite his growing disillusionment about the military, he applied and got in.
“I was still idealistic,” he said.” I figured maybe I could change things from inside.”
In addition to classic socialist theorists such as Karl Marx, Rapone says he found inspiration in the writings of Stan Goff, a retired Special Forces master sergeant who became a socialist anti-war activist.
Even while still a cadet, Rapone’s online postings alarmed a West Point history professor, who wrote Rapone up, saying his online postings were “red flags that cannot be ignored.” Rapone was disciplined but still allowed to graduate.
Greg Rinckey, an attorney specializing in military law, said it’s rare for an officer out of West Point to receive an other-than-honorable discharge. He added that it’s possible the military academy could seek repayment of the cost of Rapone’s education because he didn’t serve the full five-year service obligation required upon graduation.
“I knew there could be repercussions,” said Rapone, who is scheduled to speak at a socialism conference in Chicago next month. “Of course my military career is dead in the water. On the other hand, many people reached out and showed me support. There are a lot of veterans both active duty and not that feel like I do.”