Department Surface Waters - Research and Management

Glacial lake formation due to climate change in Switzerland

The current period of atmospheric warming is leading to an increased glacier melt. After the retreat of the ice, lakes can form in the overdeepenings of former glacier beds. Dozens of glacial lakes have emerged in Switzerland during recent decades and hundreds of lakes are expected to form in the 21st century.

We collect existing information about lake extents, map new high-alpine lakes in Switzerland and detect their changes in the past two decades and – where possible – beyond. Including knowledge on modern glacier changes we provide an ample overview of the history of glacial lake formation in Switzerland during the past decades. Different glacier lake inventories are compiled, based on very high-resolution aerial imagery and free satellite imagery that are available globally. By comparing these inventories, we demonstrate how lakes formed under a warming climate can be mapped worldwide.

In selected newly formed lakes in Uri and Valais, we facilitate ground measurements of Essential Climate Variables such as temperature, turbidity, lake level and volume variations. ECVs
Monitoring such parameters in high alpine conditions is challenging but indispensable for climate impact assessments and natural hazard mitigation. Ultimately, high-alpine lakes should be incorporated in a new, national lake monitoring network.