on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Loss in the Landscape

The Accelerating Retreat of Swiss Glaciers

Keith Beven

Keith Beven is Emeritus Professor of Hydrology at Lancaster University where he has worked for over 30 years. He has published many academic papers and books on the study and computer modelling of hydrological processes. Since the 1990s he has used mostly 120 film cameras, from 6x6 to 6x17, and more recently Fuji X cameras when travelling light.

He has recently produced a second book of images of water called “Panta Rhei – Everything Flows” in support of the charity WaterAid that can be ordered from his website.


In September 2019 a funeral service was held on the former bed of the Pizol Glacier in Switzerland1. The glacier had lost 80% of its volume since 2006 and was now small enough to be declared dead by those mourners present. In September 2020, some 200 people gathered at the foot of the remnant Trient Glacier in the Canton of Valais for a memorial to Switzerland’s disappeared glaciers. 80% of Switzerland’s remaining glaciers are small “glacierets”, vulnerable to higher temperatures and the lack of snow accumulation in winter2. These trends are also resulting in some dramatic retreat of major glaciers and modelling studies suggest that most of the ice in the Alps will have disappeared by 2100, regardless of future anthropogenic emissions3.

Mortaresch 2015 Marker

Snout of the Morteratsch Glacier in 2018 and post marking position of the snout in 2015

This is, however, not a new phenomenon. Many glaciers have been retreating since the end of the “Little Ice Age” (roughly 1300 – 1850), a period of relatively cold weather that also included the last time that a frost fair was held on the River Thames in London in 1814. This retreat has been marked out along a popular walk to the foot of the Morteratsch Glacier in the Engadine. Posts mark the position of the snout of the glacier at intervals since measurements started in 1878. The retreat in the 120 years to 1998 was 1.8km.

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