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An avalanche in Italy that killed at least seven hikers was linked to climate change, according to scientists and global leaders, including Pope Francis.
The disaster occurred Sunday after a chunk of ice broke off a glacier in northeastern Italy and struck more than a dozen people who were hiking up the Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomites, a mountain range in the Italian Alps.
“The tragedies that we are experiencing with climate change should force us urgently to pursue new ways that respect people and nature,” Francis tweeted in Italian, according to the Vatican translation. The pontiff has previously called for aggressive action to combat climate change.
Italy has been suffering from an intense early summer heat wave. Much of the country surpassed 104 degrees Fahrenheit last week. Rome, which encircles Vatican City, reached an all-time high of 105 Fahrenheit; several other Italian cities broke new records for the month of June. More severe heat waves are a byproduct of climate change and they make glacial melt and resulting events like avalanches harder to predict, according to scientists.
“This is a tragedy that certainly had an element of the unpredictable, but is also without doubt linked to the deterioration of the environment and the climate situation,” said Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi during a visit to the area on Monday.
Experts at an Italian government research center have estimated that the glacier won’t exist within 30 years, because of climate change.
Italian researcher Giovanni Baccolo told Reuters that the avalanche was unexpected. “It was really a sudden surprise to see that this glacier so heavily impacted by climate change has reacted in such an unpredictable and deep way,” he said.
“I think that while we know how a glacier retreats, we don't know much about how it disappears,” he added on Twitter. “What happened on the Marmolada today concerns a glacier considered relatively risk-free. Nonlinear failure of small glaciers may become increasingly common in the near future.”
In addition to the known death toll of seven, as of Tuesday there were still five other hikers unaccounted for.