Greater Caucasus lost large swaths of glaciers due to climate change, study shows

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Areas of the Caucasus mountain range might never look the same again, according to a study which revealed that its glaciers had lost 320 square kilometres of ice over the past two decades.

A number of small glaciers in the Greater Caucasus region have already completely disappeared, the study determined.

These changes are not only measured by scientists but experienced by mountain climbers such as Archil Badriashvili, who frequently travels to high altitudes.

"Changes can be already felt by us, seasons are changing too," he said.

"Months which were safe for mountain-climbing are not anymore; the threat of avalanches and falling rocks are increasing."

"I’ve seen melting glaciers myself -- for example, Gergeti Glacier, which used to be huge, really just looks miserable now. It’s heartbreaking to see. It’s hard to believe how much it has changed in 100 years, [and] if this continues, the future will be grim," Badriashvili said.

Climate change is said to have played a role in the collapse of the glacier in the Marmolada mountain in Italy, killing 11 people on 3 July. The collapse coincided with unusually high temperatures.

The incident raises the question of whether a tragedy like this could happen again. According to the glaciologist Levan Tielidze, glaciers in the Caucasus are shrinking on every level and some have receded by more than 4 km.

He said the number of glacial lakes is increasing too, also causing problems.

"These glaciers have shrunk by more than 1% every year, which means some glaciers might disappear in a couple of decades and not in 100 years, as was previously believed."

"Glaciers are important to the environment, they make up freshwater reserves and feed rivers. When glaciers melt, mountainsides can become unstable triggering avalanche," Tielidze said.

The tragedy that unfolded in Italy shocked the world, sparking discussions about the ever-increasing threats caused by climate change. Scientists believe the problem needs to be addressed immediately in the face of harsh consequences.

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