The Swiss have always had a cozy relationship with their mountains.
But there’s no time of year that seems to demonstrate that special connection quite like the onset of summer. That’s when conservationists make the arduous trek up those towering heights bearing massive white blankets.
The grand scheme? To cover critical sections of the Rhône Glacier — six square miles of ice that counts as the country’s oldest and most essential glacier — in its fleecy folds. And while it may seem a tender gesture, like a mother tucking in a child for the night, the idea isn’t to keep the glacier warm. It’s actually the opposite.
The blankets are designed to deflect the sun’s light, wrapping up the massive glacier like a freezer bag in hopes of preserving it from the ravages of the summer sun.
And these days, the world’s glaciers need all the help they can get. With the planet getting warmer every year, glaciers have been melting at an unprecedented rate.
In Switzerland, climate change has ratcheted up the Rhône Glacier’s typical summer melt — which feeds Europe’s famed Rhône River — from a trickle to a torrent.
In the last 150 years, that’s added up to a 4,600-foot retreat.
Cue the charge of the blanket brigade.
"For the past eight years, they have had to cover the ice cave with these blankets to reduce the ice melt," David Volken, a glaciologist with the Swiss environment ministry, tells AFP.
By covering around six acres of the glaciers, the UV-resistant blankets, Volken explains, have reduced the ice melt by as much as 70 percent.
But it has made the slope we're on only slightly little less slippery. And unless people — the main culprits in climate change — make fundamental changes to address the bigger picture, there won’t be enough blankets in the world to ward off the disastrous consequences of rising sea levels.
And those dreamy white blankets covering the Rhône?
"It will slow things down for a year or two," Jean-Pierre Guignard, who visited the glacier decades ago when it was much bigger, tells Metro UK. "But one day they will have to take away the blankets because the ice underneath will be gone."
For now, good night, sweet glaciers. Sleep tight. And don’t let the climate change bite.