Calderone glacieret reduced to just 25 metres of ice

Approximately 25 metres of ice lay hidden under a sheet of rocks beneath the Gran Sasso massif. This is what remains of the Calderone — the southernmost glacier in Europe and only glacier in the Apennines — according to data from the georadar that surveyed its surface over the last few days during a campaign to track glaciers and collect ice samples.

If the ice cores extracted from the Calderone glacier will prove to be a sufficiently preserved archive, they might be stored for the next few decades in the ‘sanctuary’ of mountain glaciers that is being created as part of Ice Memory, an international programme that is being coordinated in Italy by Carlo Barbante, director of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the Italian National Research Council and professor at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. 

Research activity on the Gran Sasso massif was organised in collaboration with experts from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (Italian: Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, INGV, the University of Padova, and Engeoneering Srls. It was made possible thanks to the collaboration of the Department of Fire Corps, Public Rescue and Civil Defence, who provided helicopters and personnel trained to safely reach the ice at the foot of Corno Grande at 2,600m.

The first radar profile made by the INGV researchers showed a clear picture: under the debris there is a part of ice mixed with stones, and a few metres of seemingly ‘cleaner’ ice. This is the clearest ‘photograph’ ever taken of the depths of the Calderone, which used to be glacier and is now a glacieret. The elaboration of all the data collected thanks to electro-magnetometers is providing glaciologists with information which will help them choose the ideal point from which to extract a deep ice core. 

“According to recent assessments, every year the Calderone glacier becomes about a metre thinner. The reduction of ice volume might, over the next few years, deprive the area of a valuable water reservoir” says Carlo Barbante, Director of the CNR-ISP and Professor at Ca’ Foscari. “In addition to losing water reservoirs we may lose information regarding the environment and climate in the past — this information is stored inside the ice and scientists can interpret it.”

The next core sampling mission on the Calderone glacier should take place in the latter half of April 2022. “Thanks to this project, the glacial archives of Gran Sasso might be preserved and remain available for scientific research even when the Calderone will have disappeared,” says Barbante. 

The activities on the Calderone glacier are a series of expeditions for the study and preservation of Italian glaciers, funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research, with the special supplementary fund for research, FISR. Other collaborators include Comune di Pietracamela (Teramo), Club alpino italiano (Cai) with the Franchetti Refuge, AKU and Karpos.

Author: Enrico Costa / Translator: Joangela Ceccon