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Huges masses in movement

Glaciers

The Gelas glacier, the southernmost in the Alps (M.Giordano).

The giant glaciers that descended from the peaks along the valleys in the Quaternary Period left deep signs of their passing, and modelled the present landscape of the Maritime Alps. Witnesses to this are the sloping slabs and rounded humps (roches moutonnées) which are found high up in the valleys, formed by the smoothing effect of the glacial masses moving over these compact crystalline rocks. Vast areas of smoothed rocks are found, for example, around the Baus bivouac hut and along the path that climbs to the Upper Sella Lake in the upper part of the Meris valley.

Other clear signs of the Quaternary glaciation are the basins and cirques, hollowed out where the bedrock was more easily eroded. The higher of these basins are mostly lakes today, whilst those at an intermediate height have mostly filled with detritus carried down by water and so have turned into extensive plains like Pra del Rasur and Praiet, above San Giacomo di Entracque, Pian della Casa and Valasco above Terme di Valdieri, and Prato and Chiòt in the Meris valley. The detritus brought down by the Quaternary glaciers has formed imposing deposits of moraine some of which are still well conserved, like the Serra dei Castagni just above Entracque.

The glaciers still present in the Maritime Alps can hardly compare to the former ones, however they are worthy of note because they are the southernmost in the Alps. Most of them are concentrated on the Italian side of the Clapier-Maledìa-Gelas group. The largest is the Clapier Glacier, which is also the southernmost, only 45km as the crow flies from Montecarlo.

Over the last decades there has been a general shrinking of glaciers, and those in the Maritime Alps have seen a serious reduction in size and are now close to disappearing forever: the Clapier Glacier is now reduced to what used to be its eastern branch, whilst the two main glaciers of Gelas are struggling not to disappear into the scree.


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