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Matterhorn, Europe's Great Summit, Crumbling in Face of Climate Change

Global warming is causing accelerated decay of Matterhorn, high peaks around the world

- Common Dreams staff

One of the highest peaks in the Alps, Matterhorn, is quickly disintegrating due to global warming patterns.

A new report released by researchers from the University of Zurich, shows that quickly altering cycles of freezing and thawing are causing large chunks of rock to fall off the mountain. As abnormal amounts of melting water penetrate cracks in the mountain's surface, irregular cycles of freezing and thawing cause the rock surface to morph in new ways, leading to subsequent speedy erosion.

"We have shown the importance of icy crevices and the melting water entering them, in the process of rock falls," the lead researcher, Stephan Gruber, told The Independent. "Unlike rock itself – changes to which take place over a very long period of time – just a few decades of temperatures rising by a degree or so are enough to affect the ice and water on the mountains."

"It's reasonable to expect the same processes are widespread elsewhere in the Alps at the same altitude," he added.

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Matterhorn disintegrating in the face of global warming (Independent):

With its four steep faces reflecting the compass points, the mighty Matterhorn has proven an irresistible and often deadly challenge to mountaineers.

But now, the mountain – one of Europe's tallest and most celebrated peaks – is falling to bits due to climate change, according to a new scientific report.

As with other Alpine mountains, experts have already documented the retreat of the peak's glaciers and the thinning of its permafrost in the wake of rising temperatures.

But scientists now say they have evidence that these rising temperatures are also prompting the physical disintegration of the mountain itself.

Researchers from the University of Zurich, who have been studying the mountain closely since 2007, say melting water is permeating exposed cracks and crevices on the 4,478m (14,690ft) mountain, which straddles the Swiss-Italian boarder. Subsequent cycles of freezing and thawing in these gaps are creating subtle movements under the rock surface, causing ever-widening fissures with the result that lumps of rock are falling off, the researchers say. [...]

The disintegration of the Matterhorn, which the researchers warn is symbolic of the problems affecting the rest of the Alps, appears to have continued since, the Swiss research team's report in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

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