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3D models from drones to study receding glaciers in Pyrenees mountains

3D models from drones to study receding glaciers in Pyrenees mountains

3D models from drones were used during a recent study that concluded that Europe’s southernmost glaciers will probably be reduced to ice patches in the next twenty years owing to climate change. The loss of ice mass on the Pyrenees mountain range proceeds at a constant but fast rate observed since at least the 1980s.

3D models from drones to study receding glaciers in Pyrenees mountains

Since 2011, three glaciers in the Pyrenees, which form the natural boundary between Spain and France, have vanished or been reduced to stagnant strips of ice. There has been an average loss of 20 feet in ice thickness in 17 of the two dozen remaining ice sheets.

According to a study published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters, their mass has shrunk by more than one-fifth on average, in almost a decade. Its results were released to the public on Friday.

Climate change, namely a 2.7 Fahrenheit rise in the Pyrenean area during the 19th century, was blamed by Spanish experts for the retreat.

“What we are seeing here is an advance warning of what may happen in other mountains, like in the Alps,” said Jesús Revuelto, one of the Spanish scientists involved in the study. “Their glaciers have much more mass and entity, but we are showing them the way.”

3D models from drones to study receding glaciers in Pyrenees mountains

Another key contributor, geologist Ixeia Vidaller, described the loss of ice mass as a “tragedy” for the Pyrenean environment, with unforeseeable consequences for biodiversity.

The scientists work at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology, or IPE, a part of the CSIC, Spain’s primary public scientific research agency. They mapped the ice mass development using high-resolution satellite images and visuals acquired during research flights in 2011, comparing it to data obtained during field visits and 3D models of mountain ridges created last summer with the assistance of drones.

The researchers discovered ice thickness loss of up to 66 feet in sections of some of the fastest-melting glaciers. According to the researchers, the decreasing of the four biggest ice sheets is more constant than that of the smaller-sized ice sheets examined, since the ice has already retreated to the shadow of ridges formed by millennia of erosion in many instances.

In comparison to previous studies on historical ice loss, IPE’s study discovered that the yearly rate of ice mass loss has not decreased since the 1980s.

“We can argue with confidence that Pyrenean glaciers are in extreme jeopardy and could disappear or become residual ice patches in about two decades,” the Spanish experts wrote according to the AP News.

Climate change, according to a new major study by United Nations experts, is obviously human-caused, “unequivocal,” and “an established fact.” It also predicts that temperatures would likely exceed a threshold of warming that global leaders have hoped to avoid during the next decade.

The Mediterranean basin, shared by southern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa, has been designated as a “climate change hot spot,” with catastrophic heatwaves, water shortages, and biodiversity loss, among other effects, by United Nations scientists.

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Photo credit: AP Photo / Aritz Parra

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Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews. Haye is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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