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Switzerland’s newest natural wonder can be found on top of a melting glacier

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Switzerland's 20-metre tall ice cave is situated above the small village of Les Diablerets
Switzerland's 20-metre tall ice cave is situated above the small village of Les Diablerets   -   Copyright  Reuters Connect
By Ben Anthony Horton  with Reuters Connect

An ice cave in the Swiss Alps is bringing both delight and discord to nature lovers in the small village of Les Diablerets.

The 20-metre tall cavern, which forms naturally on a high-altitude glacier each year, has a rounded ceiling over 20-metres high.

"It's amazing to feel the fresh air and to see what nature makes possible,” says Jens Baehrand, a visitor to the cave situated in the Glacier 3000 resort.

“It's incredible to feel how small you are in this environment."

But look a little closer, and the reality of this natural wonder underlies growing concerns surrounding rising temperature levels.

A natural wonder or a natural warning?

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On Glacier 3000, ice is melting at an average speed of five metres per yearReuters Connect

Experts predict that almost all glaciers in the Swiss Alps could be gone by 2100.

At least ten per cent have already melted in the past five years, according to a study published in Nature.

And on Glacier 3000, ice is melting at an average speed of five metres per year.

The cave, known to locals as ‘The Mill’, forms annually through a siphon effect - the result of surface tension pulling streams of water from high to low levels.

During the summer months, the cavity fills with water from snow melt. In winter, this water is siphoned off, resulting in the glacier’s ice-filled cavern.

But this effect is growing more severe each year, as rising temperature levels result in increased snow melt across the Alps.

Since 1850, Alpine glacier mass has decreased by up to 60 per cent - and the melting has only accelerated in recent years.

In 2021 alone, Swiss glaciers lost an additional one per cent of their volume due to climate change, according to the Swiss Academy of Sciences.

A ski resort without snow

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Les Diablerets attracts over 8,000 tourists every winterGetty Images

For the resort of Les Diablerets, this could result in serious economic consequences for the local ski industry, which attracts over 8,000 tourists every winter.

Experts predict that the village could receive equal amounts of rain and snow by the year 2030 - a reduction in snowfall of up to 25 per cent. Visitors would need to climb an additional 200 metres to find the same quantity of snow currently enjoyed by Les Diablerets.

Nevertheless, some locals remain optimistic.

“It’s true that global warming is a concern,” admits village mayor, Philippe Grobéty.

“But we have the conviction that for the next 30 to 40 year - for the next generation - there will be snow at this altitude.”

Whether or not this is the case remains to be seen.

For now, the ice cave above this tiny Swiss town is attracting new visitors to the area - acting as a reminder of the beauty of our alpine glaciers, and the growing need to protect them.

Watch the video above to see the ice cave for yourself.

Video editor • Ben Anthony Horton