Research confirms: less and less snow in Switzerland

By meteomorris on 14 September 2018 · 0

There's less snow in Switzerland as is confimed by research by the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and UN Environment/GRID-Geneva. An increasingly large part of Switzerland has seen little to no snow during the winter in the last few decades. The researchers used the Swiss Data Cube for their research.

Less snow in Switzerland

With the aid of satellite recordings of European and American satellites of the past 25 years, an analysis has been made on which days per year certain parts of Switzerland are covered with snow. When analyzing and comparing these data over time, it was noticeable that the part of Switzerland that remains virtually free of snow (0 to 1 time of snow per winter) has grown from 36 to 44%. This means that the area that practically didn't see any snow grew with 5200 km2. On the image below it is easy to see that the amount of red (seldom or no snow) has grown considerably over the past decade compared to the 10 years before.

But not only that is striking. The 'eternal' snow in the high alpine is also melting. At first 27% of Switzerland was snow-covered in 80 to 100% of the days, in the last decade this has dropped to 23%, with increasingly larger parts of the high alpine without snow in the warmest summer months.

Snow is more important than you think

The fact that skiers and snowboarders love snow is quite obvious, but snow also plays an important role in the water management of a country. Snow conserves water simply because it is frozen and can not go away. If more and more precipitation falls in the form of rain, or the snow cover melts faster, then this has an impact on water management. If water flows faster to lower parts or even evaporates, then that has consequences. Not only for the water supply of households, it also affects agriculture. In addition, the faster leakage of water can also cause flooding and droughts. It's pretty relevant data that helps to understand what is going on.

Experimentele data, vrij toegankelijk

The above conclusions all came form the satellite recordings of the American Landsat-satellites and the European [Sentinel 2 satellite]( / Copernicus / Sentinel-2). Everyone is free to experiment with the data. Especially since the dates of Sentinel 1 will be added soon and we will get an even better picture. All current data for Switzerland can be consulted here. The results of the current research can be found here.

Snow coverage vs depth of the snow cover

What the data does not show is an answer to the question of whether there is less snow coming down. For that, a combination with the data from the SLF would be an interesting option. Together with Meteo Suisse, the SLF has been collecting data for years via automatic monitoring stations higher up in the mountains and via human observations on the lower parts of the mountain. For us freeriders it's relevant to know how the snow cover develops during the winter and what the depth of the snow cover is. If the time with full snow coverage on the lower parts of the mountain is getting shorter and shorter, this has consequences for treeruns and if the snow cover becomes thinner, it will have an impact on the higher parts of the mountain. The landscape is often rugged and rock-covered in the higher alpine parts of the Alps, so we need a lot of snow to make freeriding possible. It would be interesting if the scientists also added that database and started experimenting with it.


The decrease in the snow coverage would be the result of a climate change. Meteo Suisse has mapped the temperature rise of the past 150 years per season. The map below clearly shows that the snow (still) tempers the rise of the temperature during the winter in the higher parts of the Alps, but that it has become considerably warmer in the winter especially in the valleys and overall during all seasons. It is therefore not surprising that first and foremost an ever larger part of Switzerland remains free of snow and that in addition the 'eternal snow' is on its way back. With the open data from Swiss Data Cube, a suspicion has been visually demonstrated. I wonder what more information we will get from this data source in the future.



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