Under the glaciers, new lands to protect

“A Race Against Time”: Near Mont Blanc, a group of scientists pray tirelessly for the glaciers, but also for the raw spaces created by their melting, and are determined to protect them from further greed.

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On this scorching October day, the sight of Tré-la-Tête is deserted: in a narrow valley on the western edge of the white giant, the fourth largest glacier in France flows violently into a gray lake. blue that formed at it. feet, then into a stream which flows into the valley of Contamines-Montjoie (Haute-Savoie).

At an altitude of about 2,000 meters above sea level, the lake, like its surrounding rocks, is marked by long lines left by glacial scratches, or “guilis”, small pools surrounded by wild reeds, revealed in recent years. the glacial mass is retreating.

These spaces are gradually being “colonized by living beings”, explains glaciologist Jean-Baptiste Bosson, coordinator of the Ice&Life project.

Based in Annecy, this group of dedicated scientists conducts both field research and research on the development of all glaciers in the world, advocating for their protection and the protection of the primary ecosystems resulting from their retreat.

Hitherto poorly protected, glacial and post-glacial spaces are “completely unimaginable” even though they play a “major role” in mitigating and adapting to climate change, they insist: they can, for example, filter and store water, sequester carbon. and promoting biodiversity.

“Sanctuary of the Living”

“We have melted the glaciers, we have failed to preserve them. Perhaps we have a second chance (to protect) the nature that comes from the retreat of the glacier,” emphasizes Mr. Bosson, who speaks of a “living sanctuary.”

Although there are landscapes around Mont Blanc that have been transformed by humans over thousands of years, these glacial areas are untouched by any human influence.

Thus, a new stage of “primary forest” appeared below in the former glacial wake. Higher up, the edges of the lake are gradually colonized by small colorful flowers.

Geographer Kenzo Heas believes these are ‘pioneer’ species that can eventually provide ‘fertile soil for other types of ecosystems such as grasslands, moors and why not forests’.

Here: “Nature decides and makes the best decisions!” sums up Mr. Bosson.

In the French Alps alone, “more than 400 km2, or 4 times the area of ​​Paris”, has been released since the end of the “Little Ice Age”, the very cold period in Europe and North America from the 14th century to 1850, the scientist explains.

At Earth’s scale, where there are about 210,000 glaciers, by 2100 vast “thawed” areas will appear, which could be the size of Nepal or even Finland, depending on climate scenarios.


Melting also creates countless new lakes and wetlands. However, if all the glaciers can’t be saved, “a big lake or wetland is the best we can get” for the proper functioning of the water cycle, Mr Bosson stresses.

But those spaces and the water or minerals they contain run the risk of attracting “tremendous desire” from businesses or ski areas very quickly, he worries.

They must therefore be protected as soon as possible, for example by granting them a special status that could be the subject of an international treaty. Since most of the areas in question are in the public domain and therefore do not need to be bought back, “there is a real stake here, a low economic and political cost with a huge benefit,” he argues.

Ice&Life is already planning to “put solutions on the table” from the One Planet – Polar summit, which will focus on the situation of the poles and glaciers in November. This topic will also be in the center of attention in 2025, which the UN has declared as the “International Year of Glacier Conservation”.

Glaciers are “extraordinary allies for raising awareness and catalyzing a collective response,” Boson notes, because they “surprise the public.”

Georgie Collins

"Falls down a lot. Writer. Passionate alcohol maven. Future teen idol. Hardcore music practitioner. Food fanatic. Devoted travel fan."