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Cloth sheet helps protect Swedish glacier from global warming

Thursday, October 7th 2021, 4:17 pm - The project hopes to raise awareness about the dangers many societies will face if glaciers disappear.

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A cloth sheet used to shield part of the Helags glacier in northern Sweden over the summer saved at least 3.5 metres in height from melting, according to organisers of the private initiative, the first of its kind in Scandinavia.

Global warming is causing glaciers to shrink all over the world. For example, the glacier on Sweden's highest mountain, Kebnekaise, has lost two metres in height over the past year alone.

The cloth experiment was performed on the Helags glacier, on Sweden's highest mountain south of the Arctic Circle.

"We covered a small part of the glacier with a wool and corn starch sheet just to see if we could get the snow and ice to melt a little less than normal," co-instigator Erik Huss said.

"This sheet actually protected 3.5-4 metres from melting."

reuters - CLIMATE-CHANGE-SWEDEN-GLACIER Team members Erik Huss and Oskar Kihlborg check for cracks on Helags glacier, in Sweden, June 23, 2021. Picture taken June 23, 2021. Anders Klapp/Handout via REUTERS

Huss, a communications consultant with a degree in glaciology who had the idea along with Swedish adventurer Oskar Kihlborg, said glaciers were the best gauge of climate change.

"They show exactly how the climate is changing, and also what you can do to protect the environment," he told Reuters.

Huss and his friends hope to reproduce their test on a larger scale than the 40 square metres covered on Helags, and to involve glaciology researchers for a more scientific approach.

They are also in talks with the cloth producer about trying to make the material thinner, and so less heavy.

reuters CLIMATE-CHANGE-SWEDEN-GLACIER Team members Oskar Kihlborg and Liza Chashchyna pose with rolls of cloth aimed at covering parts of the glacier, near Helags glacier, in Sweden, June 22, 2021. Picture taken June 22, 2021. Erik Huss/Handout via REUTERS

That is key to scaling up, Huss said, because, as part of efforts to minimise carbon emissions from the project, the biodegradable cloth sheet is dragged up the mountain by hand.

'IT'S ABOUT DOING SOMETHING'

Through the project, the initiators hope to raise awareness about the dangers many societies will face if the glaciers disappear.

"There'd then be no access to water for farming, for industry, for billions of people. Where do they go? From where do they get their water?

"There are billions around the globe who live alongside mountain ranges such as the Rocky Mountains, the Andes, the Alps and Himalaya... who rely on the glaciers for water supply."

Another aim is to show that hands-on action to mitigate the impact of global warming can have results. "It's also about doing something," Huss said.

Covering glaciers to save them from further shrinking has been tested elsewhere, such as in Italy's Presena, but never before in a Nordic country.

(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom and Ilze Filks; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Thumbnail credit: Erik Huss/Handout via REUTERS

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