- The Sphinx is a permanent patch of snow in the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland
- It has melted in the summer months only eight times in the past 300 years
- Experts fear the number of molts has increased with four in five years
- It’s expected to return again in the winter, but it won’t last forever
The longest-lasting ice in Britain has melted for just the eighth time in the past 300 years, according to experts monitoring the Caregorm event.
Known as ‘The Sphinx’, the 13-foot strip is the ‘most durable patch of ice’ in the UK, but the rate of melting is increasing – four times over the past five years.
Found in Breiach in the Cairngorms, it is feared that it may be a victim of climate change, with hot summers, wet autumns and cold winters, says climber and author Ian Cameron, making it smaller.
It lasted for most of the 300 years without a summer melt, but in four of the last five years it disappeared by early autumn, experts explained.
Records show that the Sphinx melted completely in 1933, 1959, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2017, 2018 and 2021, but prior to 1933, it melted completely in the 1700s.
It shrunk to the size of an A4 piece of paper over the past few weeks, finally disappearing earlier this week in mild weather.
The so-called Sphinx, at Breiach in Cairngorms, has survived almost every summer since records began in the 1700s. this was taken in october
The 13-foot strip of ice at Breiach in the Cairngorms (pictured in October), known as the Sphinx, has been known to survive nearly every summer since records began
What is a Permanent Snow Patch?
A snow patch, like the Sphinx in the Cairngorns, is a permanent strip of snow that survives the summer.
They often occur at higher elevations, with rocks hanging upward to reduce sunlight.
In the case of the Sphinx, it only thawed seven times in 300 years in the summer, freezing again the following winter.
They have been actively studied for over 100 years, but records of their range began in the 1700s.
Recent years have seen a decline in the extent of these patches, and they have been seen to melt more frequently.
There is concern that as the world warms, these will disappear altogether.
Scotland has many hard snow patches, but they often melt throughout the summer, returning in winter with increased snowfall.
There are no permanent glaciers in the country, but these snowflakes can last throughout the summer, lasting until the first frost of winter.
Most of these are on Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain, while others are in the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the Eastern Highlands.
Experts are concerned that its permanent demise could be imminent for all ice patches, including the iconic Sphinx.
Mr Cameron is Scotland’s leading snow patch specialist, having studied them for decades and wrote a book on their history.
He pointed out that four of its disappearances are within the past 20 years.
‘It was never thought to melt, or at least very often,’ he said, ‘but it will be the third time in five years, which is unprecedented.’
“I’m not a climatologist, but I think it’s a safe assumption to say that rising temperatures are behind this,” the author said.
The Sphinx – so-called because of the rock formation just above it – is Britain’s oldest patch of ‘permanent’ ice and has melted since the 1700s in 1933, 1959, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2017, 2018 and 2021.
Mr Cameron explained that it is the closest thing to a glacier near Scotland and, consequently, the most closely studied patch of ice in the British Isles.
The patch can be found along the lip of the ridge of Breiach, the third highest mountain in the UK, sitting in a very isolated part of the Cairngorms.
It can be found along the lip of the ridge of Breiach, the third highest mountain in the UK, sitting in a very isolated part of the Cairngorms.
It is located in a hollow at the bottom of a mountain ridge, which means it receives very little sunlight, which allows it to remain frozen even in the summer heat.
“There is a lot of snow in the winter and spring, which results in heavy snow accumulation on the hills, which takes a long time to melt,” Mr Cameron said.
The Sphinx has been studied seriously for almost 100 years and has been particularly closely studied since about the 1980s.
It can be found along the lip of the ridge of Breiach, the third highest mountain in the UK, sitting in a very isolated part of the Cairngorms. last month’s photo
It is located in a hollow at the bottom of a mountain ridge, which means it receives very little sunlight, which allows it to remain frozen even in the summer heat. last month’s photo
Snow from recent years has melted to expose the harder, older layers that are still melting, causing Mr. Cameron to say it now ‘looks irrelevant.’
However, despite the way it looks today, what’s left is ‘telling us more than we might have previously imagined,’ he explained.
‘Such ice patches act as a barometer for what the broader climate is doing and I think the evidence we’re seeing suggests that.
‘These days the minimum amount of patches are left compared to before. The amount of snow that falls in winter seems to be less and less, so there is definitely a trend happening as far as I’m concerned.’
Snow from recent years has melted to expose the harder, older layers that are still melting, causing Mr Cameron to say it now ‘looks irrelevant’. Pictured in October, it has since disappeared
Records show that the Sphinx melted completely in 1933, 1959, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2017, 2018 and 2021, but prior to 1933, it melted completely in the 1700s. it’s from october
Each year Mr Cameron writes a paper for the Royal Meteorological Society about the state of snow patches across Scotland.
‘I’m not even a climatologist or academic, but this is weird…