Known as the most famous tourist attraction in Europe, the Alps is made up of a group of mountain ranges that lie almost exclusively in Europe. Spanning the countries of Italy, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria, the Alps are spread out in an area of nearly 1200 kilometers. With hundreds of peaks over 4000 meters high, the Alps are truly breathtaking and beyond any imagination.
Besides being a towering presence over Europe, the Alps also play a significant role in determining the climate and culture of most of Europe. The alpine region is home to nearly 14 million people whose life is greatly impacted by the Alps. The Alps also support thousands of species of plant and animal life and this diversity is unique to this region. They occupy nearly 11% of the European landmass and their importance in the history, culture and geography cannot be overemphasized.
Also known as the ‘water towers of Europe’, the Alps fulfil nearly 40% of Europe’s water needs and play an important role in sustaining human and animal life in this region. Almost all crusaders from Hannibal to Napoleon have been influenced by the Alps and its stunning landscape. Much of what we know as European history and glory is courtesy the Alps because it has supported life in this region for centuries.
But this dynamic natural paradise may be short-lived now, because climatic changes are threatening the ecology of the Alps as we know it. Rising global temperatures are forcing the glaciers in the Alps to melt sooner, thereby damaging the fragile biodiversity of this region. Large-scale urbanization and industrialization have taken their toll on the Alps leaving this majestic landscape vulnerable.
Europe’s major rivers like the Danube, the Rhine, the Po and the Rhone all derive their water supply from the Alps. With the altered pattern of rainfall and the snow covers, there are greater chances of floods during summers and landslides in winters which can severely hamper life in this region. With the temperatures in the Alps rising at twice the rate of global average, the threat to the ecosystem here is all too real.
Besides the species of this region facing extinction, the economy, agriculture, tourism and industry will also be adversely affected by the change that is coming. Unless awareness can be spread about the harmful effects of the changing circumstances, the beauty of this mountain range may soon be a thing of the past.