Italians Pack Speedos as Dolomites See Soaring Temps

By Tom Kington, The Guardian

Mountain trekkers, packing essentials before heading for the glaciers in the Italian Dolomite mountains, are taking an extra piece of kit — swimming trunks.

As Italy sweats through a hot summer, climbers reaching 8,200 feet have been stripping off and plunging into the glacial lake at Antermoia, which is usually icy cold in August and frozen in the winter.

“The water is normally really cold and people just put their toe in, so it is amazing so many people up there this year are swimming,” said Andrea Weiss, a tourism chief in the Val de Fassa area where the lake is situated.

A Dolomites trail is tackled by trekkers. 
Credit: Maremagnum/ Getty Images

With temperatures of 86 degrees in the mountain resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy is getting a taste of climate change, said Luca Mercalli, the president of the Italian Meteorological Society. “This will probably be the second hottest summer after 2003, which was the hottest in 200 years. And we expect this to be the norm within 50 years.”

Visitors to the Dolomites were this year dressing for the beach, said Andrea Selva, a reporter at local newspaper Il Trentino. “Tourists have been donning their bathing costumes to sunbathe by the side of lake Fedaia, when you usually need a windcheater at the end of August.”

The melting Alpine permafrost is also triggering rockslides that are changing the face of the Alps. “Visitors witnessed a large rockslide at the Pala Group range in the Dolomites on Saturday which was so loud they thought the noise was an aircraft's sonic boom,” said Selva.

Efforts are being made to stop glaciers melting by unrolling 230 feet long by 16 feet wide strips of white plastic over the ice to reflect the sun. Local civil protection chief Alberto Trenti was quoted by the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Thursday a saying that 17.3 acres of the Presena glacier was now covered during the summer.

But Mercalli said covering glaciers was too little, too late: “There are 772 sq miles of ice cover in the Alps, so gestures like this may slow things, but won't stop them.

“The worst case scenario is that by the end of the century, 10 percent will be left, the glaciers will be gone and mountains like Mont Blanc will have little snow caps like Mount Kilimanjaro.

“If we adopt a green economy, 20-30% could be left, but after 200 years of industry there is no turning back.”

Further south this summer, soaring temperatures have triggered forest fires. In the latest blaze, guests fled from a hotel on the hills overlooking Florence on Wednesday as flames destroyed centuries old cypresses and olive groves.

But Mercalli warned that Italy was yet to face up to the threat of climate change.

“Germany, Scandinavia and the UK have understood the dangers and the potential of the green economy, but in southern Europe the dangers are still considered minimal,” he said.

Reprinted with permission from The Guardian