No more glaciers in Catalonia as climate change melts Iberian Peninsula's last ones away

Aneto glacier, in neighboring Aragon, could disappear in under two decades

The Aneto glacier in Benasc in July 2022 (by Quim Vallès)
The Aneto glacier in Benasc in July 2022 (by Quim Vallès) / ACN

ACN | Benasc

July 25, 2022 11:07 AM

Very few peaks have snow on them all year round in the Catalan Pyrenees, where glaciers have already melted away.

And, as unseasonably warm summers become commonplace, the Iberian Peninsula's last remaining ones located in the neighboring region of Aragon seem poised to disappear too.

The Aneto glacier

These glaciers, which also happen to be Europe's southernmost, now only exist at 3,000-meter altitudes or more, such as on Aneto, the Iberian Peninsula's second-tallest mountain.

Yet, according to the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (IPE), the Aneto glacier is shrinking at a rate of 1.5 meters per year, meaning it could be completely gone in under 20 years.

"This year we know even more is going to disappear," IPE researcher Ixeia Vidaller told the Catalan News Agency, referring to the frequency with which heatwaves have hit the peninsula this summer.

"The glacier doesn't have that much time left," she said, explaining how climate change has already exposed dark, "fossilized ice".

This also has its risks for hikers. Arturo Suárez, a mountain rescue officer, warns against hiking on certain trails to the top of Aneto.

In particular, the one from the Renclusa refuge that leads to Potilló, over the glacier, and then to the mountain's peak has become more dangerous. Last August, as more ice melted, more hikers had to be rescued. Suárez does not think this has to do with their "recklessness," but rather that conditions have worsened.  

Last generation with glaciers

Carles Balasch, a geologist at the University of Lleida, is convinced the glaciers will soon be gone.

"We are the generation that will witness the end of the Pyrenean glaciers," he told the Catalan News Agency.

At their high point, there used to be 250 km of glaciers in the Pyrenees above 2,000 meters. Around the mid-19th century, there were some 2,800 hectares worth of glaciers in the mountain range, in Catalonia as well, but now there are only 250 hectares and they have disappeared on Catalonia's highest peak too, the Pica d'Estats (3,143m).