With the coming of spring, people will be putting away the extra blankets that kept them warm through a chilly winter. Others in Switzerland will be blanketing a glacier. As E&E News reports, huge white blankets of canvas will be used to cover the Rhone Glacier in the Swiss Alps this summer, as in the previous eight years, to slow its rapid melt. In the last century and a half, Rhone Glacier has retreated 4,600 feet, per Live Science. It's continuing to shrink by as much as 8 inches on a hot day, and has retreated some 20 feet in the last three weeks, Swiss glaciologist David Volken tells AFP. The dirty blankets, easily mistaken for ice from afar, reflect sunlight and may help reduce melting by up to 70%, per Quartz.
They allow Rhone Glacier's ice grotto, a major tourist attraction, to remain open through the summer. But they're only a temporary fix to a larger environmental issue. "By the end of the century, only about 10% of the current ice volume will remain," Volken says. Researchers are working on solutions. According to E&E, a recent proposal on reducing ice melt suggests blowing artificial snow across a glacier to reflect sunlight. Another proposes using large wind-powered pumps to cover Arctic ice in seawater that would then freeze and add to ice depth. A third proposal suggests an artificial sill could be built on the ocean floor to block the melting of glaciers from below. However, scientists warn these short-term fixes will only put off the inevitable unless greenhouse gases are largely reduced. (This glacier recently gave up three roped-together bodies.)