July 28, 2006

Swiss Map Permafrost after Signs Alps Crumbling

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland has carried out its first ever survey of permafrost -- the frozen soil that keeps its mountains glued together -- as evidence mounts that global warming may trigger natural disasters in the Alps.

Permafrost, found in mountains as well as in Arctic regions, was slowly thawing, the government's environment office said, increasing the risk of rockfalls and mudslides threatening farmers, villages and tourists.

"The gradual melting of permafrost in the Alps is a consequence of climate warming. The example of permafrost shows that Switzerland, as an Alpine nation, is heavily affected," the office said in a statement.

The country would also see changes to precipitation patterns, an increasing number of floods and a steady retreat of glaciers, with some disappearing altogether, hurting the country's tourism industry.

A rockslide killed a German couple driving on the Gotthard motorway earlier this year and floods last summer killed six people in Switzerland and its neighbors while hundreds had to flee their homes.