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Project Ice&Life, an unprecedented study of post-glacial ecosystems

Glaciers in the French Alps have lost more than 60% of their surface area since 1850. But what remains when these giants of ice have melted? Today, the ‘Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels de Haute-Savoie (ASTERS)’, Mirova Foundation and WWF France are presenting results from the pioneering Ice&Life project on the recent and future evolution of glaciers, as well as the formation of ecosystems in newly ice-free areas. With this new scientific data, the parties are drawing attention to the urgent need for ambitious public policies to protect the remaining glaciers and the ecosystems that succeed them.

An unprecedented journey into the future of ice-covered surfaces

Anchored in a partnership among the ‘Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels de Haute-Savoie’, Mirova Foundation, Mirova’s endowment fund, and WWF France, the Ice&Life project isthefruit of collaboration between a number of scientific and technical players. The aim? To understand the evolution of glaciers and post-glacial ecosystems inorder to protect them more effectively.

Using a wealth of data collected since 2021, the project’s scientific team published its initial results this summer in the prestigious journal, Nature. This is a first, as there has never been a detailed analysis of the future evolution of glacial surfaces and their ecological consequences.

Thanks to detailed modelling, the scientific team was able to show that:

  • Between now and 2100, apart from the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps, the surface area of glaciers on Earth could shrink by 20 to 50% depending on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The de-glaciated areas will thus likely grow by as little as 149,000 km2 (±55,000 km2), an area the size of Nepal, according to a scenario respecting the Paris Agreement, or as much a total of 339,000 (±99,000 km2), or roughly the surface area of Finland, under a ‘business as usual’ scenario.
  • These areas will be made up of terrestrial zones (78%), seafloor depressions (14%) and continental zones (8%), allowing the development of large terrestrial ecosystems (mineral zones, grasslands, moors, forests, etc.), marine ecosystems (fjords, lagoons, coastlines) and freshwater ecosystems (lakes, wetlands, rivers).
  • Glaciers and post-glacial ecosystems play a major role in mitigating (albedo, carbon sequestration) and adapting to climate change, guaranteeing access to fresh water in many regions, limiting sea-level rise and halting the decline in biodiversity.

The urgent need to introduce strong protective measures

The appearance of these new post-glacial environments raises new questions: how can we protect these ecosystems and the biodiversity that depends on them at local, national and international levels? How can we preserve the freshwater stored in glaciers and the ecosystems that succeed them?

Despite their importance, these ecosystems have received little recognition under nature protection policies to date. Less than 50% of glaciers are located in protected areas. The WWF France and other partners in the Ice&Life project are calling for better protection of glaciers and their successor ecosystems, including:

  • Accelerated climate change mitigation and implementation to fulfil national commitments.
  • Increased in situ protection of these ecosystems by establishing protected areas, the recognition of protected ecosystems (recently created wetlands) and an extension of environmental legislation.

These proposals are part of an opportunity taking shape at the international level, as 2025 has been proclaimed the ‘International Year of Glacier Preservation’ by the United Nations, with a world congress to be held this topic.

Anne-Claire Roux Executive Director of Mirova Foundation

Along with Mirova Foundation, we have supported Jean-Baptiste Bosson and the team at the ‘Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels de Haute-Savoie (ASTERS)’ since Ice&Life was first launched. With its ambitious partnership bringing together academia, volunteers, public authorities and private entities, this project demonstrates the importance of collective approaches to documenting and highlighting the challenges posed by climate change. The scientific work carried out by the Ice&Life team, together with their recommendations, make an unprecedented and unequivocal statement: immediate action is needed to preserve not only the remaining glaciers, but also the new post-glacial ecosystems that are beginning to emerge.

Jean-Christophe Poupet European Alpine Programme Officer at WWF France

We are delighted to be presenting the innovative results and next steps of the Ice&Life project today. This project is essential because it addresses a number of current issues: climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity protection and freshwater management. Freshwater has become a precious resource and its availability, made possible by melting glaciers, needs to be managed with care. Ambitious protective measures are therefore urgently needed for both remaining glaciers and for these new post-glacial ecosystems.

Jean-Baptiste Bosson Ice&Life project coordinator, Glaciologist at the Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels de Haute-Savoie (Asters)

By developing Ice&Life alongside academics, nature conservationists, civil society and, in the future, public partners, we are proud to be innovating and placing scientific knowledge at the service of debate and action on behalf of transition throughout the land. Knowing, loving, respecting and protecting nature better is the only sustainable way forward for humankind. In this context, protecting glaciers and the ecosystems that succeed them is a vital and urgent action with high symbolic value.