10 Fascinating Facts About The Aletsch Glacier

One of the most amazing glaciers in the world can be found in the most extensive mountain range in Western Europe.

In this article, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting facts about the Aletsch Glacier, one of the most fascinating natural landmarks in the world!

1. It’s located in one of the 8 Alpine countries

The Aletsch Glacier, also sometimes referred to as the “Great Aletsch Glacier,” is an enormous glacier located in the Valais Canton of Switzerland. It’s situated in the eastern Bernese Alps, a section of the huge Alps Mountain Range.

It’s really situated on the border of the Bern and Valais Cantons of the country in the western part of Switzerland. The area can be accessed through the famous Gemmi Pass which is situated to the glacier’s west near the town of Leukerbad.

The closest major city in the area is Bern, the capital of Switzerland, situated about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the north of the glacier.

Aletsch Glacier Switzerland
The glacier in Switzerland / Robert J Heath / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

2. This huge glacier is the largest in the Alps

This fascinating natural phenomenon was formed through the accumulation of snow. When this process exceeds the snowmelt, a glacier is formed which in turn gradually moves under its own weight.

The Aletsch Glacier is the largest in the Alps as it has a length of about 22.6 kilometers (14 miles), even though it’s receding and its length gradually lowers.

It also covers a total area of 81.7 square kilometers (31.5 square miles) and has a total volume of about 15.4 cubic kilometers (3.7 cubic miles).

Aletsch Glacier length
The largest glacier in the Alps / Pixabay

3. It’s not the only huge glacier in the area

One of the most astounding facts about the Aletsch Glacier is that it’s not the only enormous glacier in the area. On the south side of the Bernese Alps, we can also find the Fiescher Glacier, a glacier with a length of about 16 kilometers (9.9 miles).

The so-called “Aargletschers,” on the other hand, is a collection of multiple smaller glaciers in the Bernese Alps. This is the main reason why this entire area is considered to be the largest glaciated area in all of Western Europe.

This region is referred to as the “Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch” and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011.

Fiescher Glacier
Fiescher Glacier / Nol Aders / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

4. It’s formed by the conversion of 4 smaller glaciers

The Aletsch Glacier is formed in a large flat area covered in ice and snow referred to as the “Konkordiaplatz” or the “Concordia Place.” 4 smaller glaciers come together here to create the largest glacier in Western Europe.

These glaciers are the Grosser Aletschfirn, the Jungfraufirn, the Ewigschneefäld, and the Grüneggfirn.

The Jungfraufirn is a reference to the amazing mountain with the same name and is basically a continuation of the Aletsch Glacier. Therefore, the starting point of the glacier is considered to be the peak of this mountain which is situated at a height of 4,158 meters (13,642 feet) above sea level.

Jungfraufirn and Grosser Aletschfirn
The converging glaciers / Wiki Commons

5. The glacier has an extremely thick ice cover at the start

Because the Aletsch Glacier itself starts at Concordia Place, the thickness of the ice sheet is huge. It’s estimated that the thickness reaches about 940 meters (3083 feet).

The glacier flows down to the south and the ice gradually melts as the elevation decreases. The thickness is only about 150 meters (492 feet) at the end of the glacier at an elevation of about 1,650 meters (5,413 feet) above sea level.

It’s also estimated that the glacier has already lost about 300 meters (980 feet) of its thickness since 1870. That’s quite a bit of ice that has evaporated since then, don’t you think?

Konkordiaplatz
Konkordiaplatz / Chogori01 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

6. It ends up becoming the source of a river in the Rhône Valley

Just like many other glaciers, it eventually gives birth to a river, in the case of the Aletsch Glacier, the small Massa River. This river only has a length of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) and flows through an amazing gorge of the same name.

One of the most famous rivers in Europe originates from a glacier nearby as well, the Rhône River, which is born from a glacier with the same name.

The humble Massa River eventually releases in the Stausee Gibidum reservoir, which in turn becomes a tributary of the Rhône River.

Source of the Massa River
The source of the Massa River with the glacier to the right / Wiki Commons

7. It creates a small lake on its eastern side as well

Apart from giving birth to a small river, the glacier is also the creator of a small lake as well. This humble glacier lake is called the “Märjelensee” and is situated on the eastern side of the glacier.

One of the most fascinating facts about this lake is that it was only formed in the 19th century. It has a total surface area of 32 hectares (79 acres), has a maximum depth of 45 meters (148 feet), and is situated at an elevation of 2,348 meters (7,703 feet).

Yes, the lake with the glacier in the background is quite an amazing sight to behold!

Märjelensee
Märjelensee seen from Eggishorn / Addvisor / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

8. The lowest part of the glacier is mostly covered by moraines

While the upper part of the glacier is majestically covered in ice and snow, the lower part doesn’t look nearly as white.

The lower part of the glacier is almost completely covered by moraines, which means accumulated debris in the form of rocks that have been carried down by the thick layer of ice from the moving glacier.

This is quite normal because the glacier moves at a pace of about 180 meters (590 feet) per year.

Aletsch glacier fun facts
The amazing glacier / Pixabay

9. The glacier has receded over 3 kilometers the past 150 years

Glaciers are one of the best natural phenomenons to measure the effects of global warming. Just about every glacier on the planet is receding and the Aletsch Glacier isn’t any different.

The glacier in Switzerland has lost about 3.2 kilometers (2.0 miles) of its length since the year 1870, over 150 years ago. It has also lost about 1.3 kilometers (0.81 miles) of its length since the year 1980, with a record loss of 114.6 meters (376 feet) measured in 2006 alone.

This, unfortunately, means that this process is speeding up and it’s estimated that by the year 2100, the glacier will have lost over 90% of its current ice mass.

Aletsch Glacier receding
The receding glacier / Pixabay

10. It can be viewed from the “Top of Europe Building”

Today, the glacier is still one of the most amazing tourist attractions in the Bernese Alps. It can be reached directly by the Jungfraujoch railway station, the highest railway station in Europe at a height of 3,454 meters (11,332 feet).

From here you can reach the Top of Europe building which provides an astounding view of the Aletsch Glacier from the south side of the Jungfraujoch.

From this building, you can take an elevator and can even go higher to visit the Sphinx Observatory, one of the top 20 highest observatories in the world. This is located at an elevation of 3,571 meters (11,716 feet) and provides even more astounding views of the area!

Top of Europe building aletsch glacier
View from the “Top of Europe Building.” / Pixabay