Science Sandwich: Impacts of Climate Change on the Espace Mont-Blanc

“As humans, I think we are very good at short-term optimization and making the most of opportunities and conditions on a day-to-day basis (such as skiing on a beautiful day)…It’s much more difficult for us to plan ahead and consider how our lives and how our environment might be different in 10, 20 or 50 years, in response to climate change.  And in fact, this is exactly what the AdaPT Mont-Blanc project is trying to do.”

At CREA Mont-Blanc’s latest Science Sandwich, Brad Carlson, researcher at CREA Mont-Blanc and IFMGA Mountain Guide, presented the scientific results found in the report we co-wrote with ARPA Vallée d’Aoste on the impacts of climate change on the Mont-Blanc region.  The report was part of AdaPT Mont-Blanc, a cross-border collaboration to develop adaptation strategies in the face of climate change. 

The Mont-Blanc Massif as seen from La Flégère (c) CREA Mont-Blanc

Tuesday, December 10th was a beautiful sunny day, following a storm that dumped a fresh layer of powdery snow onto the mountains around Chamonix.  And yet, on that crisp and sunny day, nearly 50 people crowded themselves into the Mont-Blanc Observatory, effectively accepting the challenge to forgo the draw of short-term optimization, and learn about the ways in which their lives and their home will change in the coming years. 

Jean-Marc Bonino, Director of the Communauté de Communes de la Vallée de Chamonix-Mont-Blanc opened the conference, presenting the EU Interreg AdaPT Mont-Blanc project, and demonstrating the commitment of local government to integrate climate change into the decision-making process. Following this introduction, Brad Carlson presented the findings from two years of work compiling studies and downscaling IPCC climate predictions to the local scale. The resulting 100+ page report illustrates how climate will impact the Espace Mont-Blanc, focusing both on physical and biological changes as well as impacts on different sectors of human activity.

The picture painted of the future of the Mont-Blanc massif was at times shocking: up to 40 fewer days of snow cover, forests climbing upslope higher than the Plan de l’Aiguille, severely decreased habitat for emblematic alpine species, and favorable temperature for growing grapes…but despite all of the anticipated changes, Carlson insisted that the Espace Mont-Blanc will always remain a remarkable place: “We are looking at a fundamental upheaval of the landscape as we know it…glacier retreat, upward shift of vegetation including forests and grasslands, more moraine and smaller snowfields — a transformation of what we consider Chamonix to be.  Although there are some massive changes underway, the fundamental beauty of this landscape will remain intact, and the incredibly topography…and diversity of habitat from high mountain to valley floors will still be there.

By clicking here, you’ll be redirected to the final AdaPT Mont-Blanc report, with all of the figures you saw in the presentation.

Below, you can find Brad’s presentation slides and the accompanying audio for the talk.

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