We all know that climate change is already affecting Australia’s mountains. From more intense fire seasons, less rainfall and higher temperatures, we are already locked into a changed future.

What we do now will influence how much additional change the Alps experience in coming decades.

The Victorian government’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability has just released their State of the Environment Report for 2018. These are produced every five years.

The report tells Victorians about the health of our environment – our land, our water, our air, and our ecosystems. Using 170 different scientific indicators, the report shows us where we’re doing well and where we need to improve. It has specific information on alpine environments, and the following is lifted directly from the 2018 report, which is available here.

With higher temperatures and less snowfall predicted for Victoria’s alpine regions later this century, will Victorians still be able to ski, snowboard and throw snowballs?

Climate change in the snowfields

The potential impact of climate change on alpine resorts has been discussed for decades. Now a 2016 report from the University of Tasmania, The Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Victorian Alpine Resorts, gives us some startling predictions for Victoria’s own alpine regions, with changes likely to have a large impact on natural ecosystems, local economies and recreational use.

What the projections tell us

Under a high emissions scenario, Victorian alpine resorts are projected to be 4 to 5°C warmer later this century with 5 to 20% less precipitation and 60 to 80% lower annual snowfall compared to the late 20th century. Snow cover and volume will decline so much that eventually only the highest peaks will get any snow.

The projections are similar for all major resorts.

  • Mt Hotham, Mt Buller, Mt Baw Baw, Lake Mountain and Mt Stirling will experience an increase in temperature of 3 to 5°C. Temperatures at Falls Creek will increase a little more — 3.5 to 5.7°C.
  • Snow will reduce by as much as 86% in most resorts, with lower estimates still mainly being around the 70% mark.
  • Fewer snow days (meaning days when all precipitation falls as snow). More snow will fall as sleet, meaning the snow that has fallen won’t last as long.
  • No changes in wind speed or direction.

Trouble for skiers, resorts, and native wildlife

These predicted changes will threaten the environmental, economic, social and cultural value of the alpine resorts. Animals already under threat include the Mountain Pygmy Possum [LINK TO CASE STUDY], Baw Baw Frogs [LINK TO CASE STUDY], and the Powerful Owl. As natural snow declines, more snow will need to be made to cater for snow activities, with the added challenge of warmer conditions. Visitor numbers may decline, affecting the economic viability of resorts.

With snow-making, the northern resorts (Mt Buller, Mt Stirling, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek) should have adequate snow to support winter snow activities in the short to medium term (more than 20 to 30 years). The southern resorts (Mt Baw Baw and Lake Mountain) should have adequate snow to support winter snow activities in the short term (within around 10 to 20 years).

The more severe global warming becomes, the less snow will fall in Victoria’s alps.

What’s being done

The Alpine Resorts Coordinating Council (ARCC) is developing the Alpine Resorts Strategic Plan: Responding to Climate Change. Consultation with Traditional Owners and other stakeholders is informing the plan.

Alpine resorts are already focusing on year-round activities so that they can be economically sustainable across all seasons. As well, resorts are investing in sustainability through water recycling and treatment systems, waste recycling processes and programs to protect the sensitive alpine ecosystems.