Plampincieux: Italian Village Under Threat
In September of 2019, a small glacier high above an Italian village in the Val Ferret was at risk of releasing a large quantity of ice. Accordingly, parts of some roads were closed and a village put on alert, as debris had in prior years caused fatalities when encountering motorists on the road (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/25/mont-blanc-glacier-in-danger-of-collapse-experts-warn). A few days after the news broke, I decided to saddle up the airplane and make a flight over to examine the glacier in question.
The valley on the south side of the Massif du Mont Blanc, which forms the border between Italy and France and happens to contain the highest mountain in the Alps, is immensely steep. However, owing to its southern exposure, glaciers are relatively small compared to the ice caps and masses of snow on the French side of the range. I had flown extensively all over this range many times before and the Plampincieux Glacier barely registered in my mind as existing.
While that may be reality from an airplane, in this case, size doesn’t matter, as the issue at hand was the glacier’s stability. Measurements indicated that it was speeding up, over very steep terrain, such that if it let loose in a disorderly fashion, enough ice and rock would come tumbling down to cause a safety concern below.
As is typical with glaciers from the air, what appears nominal in relative comparison from a distance can get much larger when one gets closer. As I circled and tried to get a better understanding of the glacier in question, I could begin to understand just how steep the Grandes Jorasses Ridge truly is, along with how much glacial mass does exist. While the concern that gave rise to this flight was a dramatic one, it does remind me of one of the facets of glaciers that I do enjoy: their living nature. While a geological feature, they are in motion on an annual basis, a dynamic equilibrium that is part of nature.
The part that might break away. Close up.
First debris path (center). Secondary debris path (left).