This August, tourists and residents fled the path of a famous glacier in Italy. Fear of sliding, cracking, crashing ice caused the evacuation of a popular Alpine valley. After years of study, scientists know this for certain: It is the nature of glaciers to move.
Located in parts of seven European countries, the Alps are known for their height, length, and icy beauty. The area is a most beautiful part of God’s creation. Planpincieux Glacier lies on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.
Glaciers like Planpincieux are thick masses of ice. Their enormous weight causes them to move toward lower ground continuously. More than 4,000 of these frozen, flowing wonders dot Europe’s famous mountain range. They are a vital water source for towns and villages below—and a peril as well.
Risk of collapse makes glaciers difficult and dangerous to study. The risk multiplies if the glacier’s front is hanging, or on a slope.
Planpincieux is such a hanging glacier. Huge ice chunks regularly slide down the steep incline. They break off the terminus (front) and crash into the valley.
Lately, Planpincieux has been creeping downward at the rate of about 32-40 inches per day, according to glacier expert Valerio Segor. The fear is that over 123 acres of ice could soon break off and smash down.
Researchers have been studying Planpincieux since 2013. They observe the fragile hanging glacier with aerial photography and radar.
A monitoring station measures the movement of the glacier’s front from the top of Mont de La Saxe, over two miles away. The station there has weather instruments and multiple cameras.
Last year, scientists worried about Planpincieux glacier too. But the ice held its grip on the mountain. Now temperature shifts from hot to cold to hot again are being blamed for the risky state of the glacier.
This year, those forced to evacuate came from Ferret Valley homes and holiday lodgings in the shadow of the glacier. Tourists were not allowed to enter the scenic valley to see the sights.
Scientists are not sure when Planpincieux’s collapse will occur. Expert Fabrizio Troilo says, “It could give way in an instant.”
But warm weather or cold, they are certain it will—because moving is what glaciers do.