Study: Alps in Warmest Period in 1,300 Years

Europe's Alpine region is going through its warmest period in 1,300 years, the head of an extensive climate study said Tuesday.

"We are currently experiencing the warmest period in the Alpine region in 1,300 years," Reinhard Boehm, a climatologist at Austria's Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics said.

Boehm based his comments on the results of a project conducted by a group of European institutes between March 2003 and August 2006. Their aim was to reconstruct the climate in the region encompassing the Rhone Valley in France to the west, Budapest, Hungary to the east, Tuscany, Italy to the south and Nuremberg, Germany to the north over the past 1,000 years.

Boehm said the current warm period in the Alpine region began in the 1980s, noting that a similar warming occurred in the 10th and 12th centuries. However, the temperatures during those phases were "slightly under the temperatures we've experienced over the past 20 years."

Humans first had an impact on the global climate in the 1950s, Boehm said, noting that at first, the release of aerosols into the atmosphere cooled the climate. Since the 1980s, however, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane have warmed it up, he said.

"It will undoubtedly get warmer in the future," Boehm said.

Sponsored by the European Union, the project sought to homogenize climate data collected in the Alpine region over the past 250 years. Climate reconstruction focused on seven parameters, including temperature, sunshine periods and cloud cover. Tree rings and ice core measurements were also taken into consideration.

The unseasonably warm weather this autumn has caused concern in Austria's ski resorts, where slopes are still largely covered in green grass instead of snow. Many, such as St. Anton am Arlberg, have had to postpone the start of their skiing season and some have tried attracting tourists with alternative programs, such as hiking.

Austrian ski resorts usually open at the end of November or early December.

Wilma Himmelfreundpointner, deputy director of the St. Anton Tourist Office, said the resort has the capability to cover 80 percent of its slopes with fake snow. But the current mild temperatures and sunshine make that an impossible option at the moment, she said.

"What can you do? One can't change the weather," Himmelfreundpointer said, adding some tourists go on day trips to nearby glaciers in order to ski.

In some cases, organizers have had to be creative to make sure their events take place as planned.

In Hochfilzen, Tyrol, organizers of an upcoming international race went to the Grossglockner — Austria's highest mountain — to get snow they needed to prepare their track.

It took about five days to truck between 7,000 and 8,000 cubic meters (9,200 - 10,500 cubic yards) of snow from the Grossglockner, said organizer Thomas Abfalter.