The ablation tongue of the Cedèc glacier. As the ice retreats, the eroded rock debris slips and accumulates on the surface of the glacier. Furthermore, the melting brings out the material trapped in the ice. The result is an ice that is made up of dust, mud and pollutants that blacken it, speeding up the melting processes.

In pictures: Documenting melting Alpine glaciers in the Forni Valley

Photographer Luigi Avantaggiato has documented the melting of one of the world’s most studied glaciers high in the Italian Alps.

The mountain ranges of the Lombardy region hold the largest number of glaciers in Italy, many of which are classified as extinct or in danger of extinction.

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The Forni valley glacier, in Altal Valtellina, has become of particular interest to tourists and scientists a like. Its size and the beauty of the Forni Valley and the gigantic glacial tongue (a long and narrow sheet of ice) that made it accessible to anyone transformed it into a popular destination for mountaineers and tourists during the early 20th Century.

The unusually high heat of the summer of 2015 radically changed the structure of the glacier. By the end of August 2015 the entire mass had split into three sections. Scientific studies have shown that this rate of change is set to increase over the next two decades.

Photographer Luigi Avantaggiato has been photographing the changing face of one of the world’s most studied glaciers, demonstrating the speed at which climate change is affecting our landscape.

The accumulation area

The accumulation area of the Central Forni glacier, Valfurva. The regression of the glacial front from the point of its maximum expansion in the first half of the nineteenth century was 3.3 km², while the loss of the area occupied by the glacier was about 8 km². In 1867, the year of the first accurate mapping, the total area measured 19 km²: today it is just over 11 km².
The accumulation area of ​​the Central Forni glacier, Valfurva, Lombardy, Italy. The regression of the glacial front from the point of its maximum expansion in the first half of the 19th Century was 3.3 km², while the loss of the area occupied by the glacier was about 8 km². In 1867, the year of the first accurate mapping, the total area measured 19 km²: today it is just over 11 km². Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

The structure of a glacier

The areas of an Alpine glacier. Illustration by Kelvinsong/Wikipedia
The areas of an Alpine glacier. Illustration by Kelvinsong/Wikipedia

Debris-covered glacier

Rocky debris begins to cover an area of the Eastern front of the Forni glacier, Valfurva. One of the consequences of the deglaciation phase underway is the transition from
Rocky debris begins to cover an area of the Eastern front of the Forni glacier, Valfurva, Lombardy, Italy. One of the consequences of the melting of the glacier is the transition from ‘white’ or ‘debris-free’ glaciers to black or ‘debris-covered’ glaciers. The thickness and grain size of the debris affect the melting rate. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Documenting the change

The glaciologist Giuseppe Cola reaches a photographic landmark to carry out measurements on the Eastern Forni glacier.
The glaciologist Giuseppe Cola, who has been monitoring the state of health of the glacier for over 40 years, takes a picture on the Eastern Forni glacier. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Meltwater stream

The glaciologist Giuseppe Cola, 60, inside an endoglacial stream in the Eastern Forni glacier, Valfurva.
The glaciologist Giuseppe Cola inside an endoglacial stream in the Eastern Forni glacier, Valfurva, Lombardy, Italy. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato.

Lake grounds

The epiglacial lake obtained from the melting of the ice of the Cedéc glacier in the Cedéc Valley.
The epiglacial lake formed from the melting of the ice of the Cedéc glacier in the Cedéc Valley, Valfurva, Italy. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

New growth

A pine tree grows on a moraine of the Central Forni glacier. The colonization of glacial tongues by vegetation is one of the biological world's responses to global warming. QThe presence of epiglacial trees is a source of climatic and glaciological information, recoverable through the analysis of the annual growth rings.
A pine tree grows on a moraine of the Central Forni glacier. The colonisation of glacial tongues by vegetation is one of the biological world’s responses to global warming. The presence of epiglacial trees is a valuable source of climatic and glaciological information. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Stratification

Stratification of ice, firn and rock in the accumulation area of the Central Forni.
Stratification of ice, firns and rock in the accumulation area of the Central Forni Valley, Italy. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

The Forni Valley through time

Comparison of photos showing the strong retreat witnessed by Forni Glacier. The photos were taken in 1890 (by V. Sella), in 1941 (by A. Desio) and in 1997 and 2007 (by C. Smiraglia), respectively
Comparison of photos showing the strong retreat by the Forni Glacier. The photos were taken (L to R) in 1890 (by V. Sella), in 1941 (by A. Desio) and in 1997 and 2007 (by C. Smiraglia), respectively. Photo by Carlo D’Agata et al/Springer Nature

Frodolfo waterfall

The Frodolfo waterfall flows towards the Forni Valley in Valfurva. The source of the watercourse is located in the Forni glacier and originates from its melt water. In recent years, its debris and water flow has increased causing damage.
The Frodolfo waterfall flows towards the Forni Valley in Valfurva, Italy. The source of the watercourse is located in the Forni glacier and originates from its melt water. In recent years, its debris and water flow has increased causing damage to the nearby landscape. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Flowing meltwater

Melt water flows along the Cedéc valley to flow into the Frodolfo. In the background, the top of Gran Zebrù.
Melt water flows along the Cedéc valley to flow into the Frodolfo. In the background, the top of Gran Zebrù, on the border between South Tyrol and the Province of Sondrio, Italy. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

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Mountain guide

Tino Pietrogiovanna, 72, is an internationally renowned athlete and coach. «I remember very well the first time I came here as a kid with my father, a mountain guide, about sixty years ago. The glacier was immense: the three flows of San Matteo, Palon Del Mare and Vioz merged into a single gigantic tongue that reached as far as the Forni Refuge. It's a shame to see him like this today! You can explain and tell how it was, we can see it in the photographs, but the grandeur and majesty that once was seen is missing».
Tino Pietrogiovanna, 72, is an internationally renowned athlete and coach. “I remember very well the first time I came here as a kid with my father, a mountain guide, about 60 years ago. The glacier was immense: the three flows of San Matteo, Palon Del Mare and Vioz merged into a single gigantic tongue that reached as far as the Forni Refuge. It’s a shame to see him like this today. You can explain and tell how it was, we can see it in the photographs, but the grandeur and majesty that once was seen is missing”. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Crossing the basin

The mountain guide Pietrogiovanna crosses the accumulation basin of the central sector of the Forni glacier with a mountaineer to reach the summit of San Matteo.
The mountain guide Pietrogiovanna crosses the accumulation basin of the central sector of the Forni glacier with a mountaineer to reach the summit of San Matteo. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Night view

Night view of the Forni glacier storage basin. According to forecast models, by 2050 half the mass of Alpine glaciers will have disappeared, regardless of how we behave until then.
Night view of the Forni glacier storage basin. According to forecast models, by 2050 half the mass of Alpine glaciers will have disappeared, regardless of how we behave until then. It is also estimated that this glacier will have totally disappeared by 2100 at current rates. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato