Current measurements and observations of the snow cover on domestic glaciers show a positive development this spring. Due to the cool and snowy spring months, the winter snow cover in high mountain regions is more stable and thicker than in previous years, according to glaciologists Andrea Fischer and Hans Wiesenegger (source: https://science.orf.at/stories/3219689/).
The snow cover plays an important role in protecting glacier ice from intense sunlight. The later the ice is exposed in summer, the less pronounced the glacier melt. Compared to the strong glacier melts of previous years, which experienced high temperatures and heatwaves as early as May, there is currently no similar situation emerging.
In early May, the winter snow covers on the glaciers are measured as they reach their peak before the snowmelt reaches the glaciers. Besides the thickness of the snow cover, the melting rate is especially crucial. The summer of 2022 was recorded as an extreme summer for glacier melting in the history books due to various factors favoring it. Firstly, the preceding winter had less precipitation. The combination of low precipitation, Saharan dust deposited on the snow surface, which absorbs sunlight more strongly than white snow, and heatwaves in the spring resulted in the early melting of the protective snow cover on the glaciers. Consequently, glacier ice in many regions was exposed to summer conditions for several weeks and experienced a significant decline.
In 2023, the unusually cool and precipitation-rich April brought a considerable amount of snow to the high mountain regions. According to GeoSphere Austria, it is one of the ten wettest April months since measurements began in 1858. The nationwide overview of snow depths shows a significant increase, especially in the high mountain regions, from early March to early May. Even at the end of May, the snow cover in the high mountains remained in a wintry state as there had been no warm period with summer days so far.
Comparison: Rudolfshütte and Stubacher Sonnblickkees with exposed Sahara sand in May 2022 and May 2023; Photo: Foto-webcam.eu.
The measurements by glaciologists indicate an improved starting point for the upcoming melting period compared to the previous year. At the Hallstätter Glacier in the Dachstein region, Kay Helfricht and Klaus Reingruber report a snow situation close to the long-term average. In April, an additional 400 millimeters of precipitation fell, accounting for one-third of the total accumulation at the glacier tongues.
The glaciers in the Hohe Tauern National Park also show similar trends. On the north side of the Venedigerkees in Salzburg, average snow depths are present, while on the south side at the Mullwitzkees in Tyrol, the snow depth is slightly below average. The average snow density was also slightly lower due to late snowfall accumulation.
However, there are also some regions where the snow amount is still below average. The Vernagtferner, measured by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, has experienced a decrease of about 20 percent compared to the long-term average. Nevertheless, overall measurements indicate an improvement compared to the previous year.
This development is particularly important considering the fact that snowfall in summer is becoming increasingly rare. Sufficient winter snow, which protects the glaciers well into summer, is therefore becoming more significant. It provides the basis for us to begin training ski instructors and snowboard instructors as early as October to ensure an adequate workforce for domestic ski schools. It is encouraging to see that the current measurements and observations of the snow cover on domestic glaciers indicate a positive development, giving us confidence for the courses in autumn.