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Less water is now stored in the Alps in the form of snow

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Some of the winter precipitation in the Alps is temporarily stored as snow, which is then available as meltwater in spring and summer and can be used in electricity production, agriculture and as drinking water. Seasonal fluctuations in precipitation can thus be partly compensated for. In her master’s thesis at SLF, Anna-­Maria Tilg conducted the first investigation into changes in the snow water equivalent (the amount of water produced when the snow has completely melted) at more than 40 measuring stations in four alpine countries. Although the stations are distributed over a large range of altitudes and a wide variety of climate regions, she discovered some astonishingly uniform trends across the Alps over the past 45 years. While the snow water equivalent changed very little in winter, it had decreased markedly on the reporting date of 1 April at about half the stations during the period of time investigated. The reason for this was not just the rise in temperature, but also the lower amount of spring precipitation seen in recent years. If, as expected, temperatures continue to rise, alpine rivers will carry considerably less water in summer, as the greater part of the snowmelt will occur earlier in the year. (Martin Heggli, Diagonal 2/16)