Protecting current and future glaciers and deglaciated areas

A novel project linking science and nature conservation


The glaciologist Jean-Baptiste Bosson accompanied the media Brut near the Glacier of Tré la Tête (Mont-Blanc massif; video in French)

Ice & Life

Between science and nature conservation, Ice&Life is an innovative project that explores one of our planet's greatest current metamorphoses. As a result of climate change caused by human activity since the Industrial Revolution, glaciers are melting all over the world, and the process is accelerating. From the end of the Little Ice Age (1850-1900 depending on the region) to the end of the 21st century, glacial decline will expose hundreds of thousands of km2 globally. In these areas, that are of the “last of the wild” on our planet, diverse terrestrial (rocky areas, grasslands, forests, etc.), freshwater (rivers, lakes, wetlands, etc.) and marine (fjords, coastlines, lagoons, etc.) ecosystems are developing. By gathering scientific data on this new ecological frontier and showing the crucial role played by glaciers and postglacial ecosystems to address some of the unprecedented challenges of the Anthropocene (climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, etc.), Ice&Life aims to increase the recognition and protection of these key ecosystems.

Ice&Life relies on three complementary objectives



This is the title



    Ice&Life aims to develop interdisciplinary scientific knowledge on glacial and postglacial ecosystems, as well as on the transition between them. Research, carried out from the pilot area in Haute-Savoie to the entire planet, will focus on glacier evolution, the development of postglacial ecosystems, and the importance of these ecosystems for climate, biodiversity, freshwater and human activities. Research will also focus the threats to these ecosystems and the opportunities to enhance their protection and sustainable management.

    Field campaigns in 2022

    The team of Asters-CEN74 has investigated 14 freshly deglaciated areas in Haute-Savoie.

    In addition to fauna inventories, 40 botanical surveys were carried out and the freshwater invertebrates were sampled in 9 sites.

    Future global evolution of glaciers and topography of emerging deglaciated areas

    # Matthias Huss, Jean-Baptiste Bosson, Florent Arthaud, Sophie Cauvy-Fraunié, Jean-Christophe Clément, Guillaume Costes, Mauro Fischer, Jérôme Poulenard

    # Earth
    # modeling

    Based on the model developed by Matthias Huss, this pioneering study explores the response of all glaciers (covering 665,000 km2 outside the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps) to climate projections up to 2100, and for the first time enables to anticipate the topography of deglaciated areas and thus the development of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems after glacial retreat. The first scientific paper from this research (Future emergence of novel ecosystems caused by glacial retreat. (Bosson et al. in review)) has just been accepted by Nature and ecological modeling will be developed in 2023 to better characterize and anticipate the development of postglacial ecosystems. The main initial results will be detailed when the article is published in summer 2023.
    Glacier areas and protected areas globally

    # Guillaume Costes, Jean-Baptiste Bosson

    # Earth
    # Spatial analysis

    In 2022, we compared the surface area of all glaciers and protected areas (IUCN categories I-IV, World Heritage, Man and Biosphere, Ramsar Convention) worldwide. This analysis, available on request, has been incorporated into the scientific paper (Future emergence of novel ecosystems caused by glacial retreat. (Bosson et al. in review)) submitted at the end of 2022. The results show that only 30% of the world's glacial surfaces are protected today (47% when including also the glaciers covered by the Antarctic Treaty).
    Mapping of the glacier extent during the Little Ice Age in the French Alpls

    # Jean-Baptiste Bosson, Kenzo Héas

    # French Alps
    # Spatial analysis

    In early 2023, we completed the great pioneer works of Marie Gardent in the Mont-Blanc, Vanoise and Ecrins by mapping glacial occupation during the Little Ice Age in the rest of the French Alps. Detailed results are currently discussed with other glaciologists and will be shared in fall 2023.
    Characterisation of freshly deglaciated areas in the French Alps

    # Adrien Guerou, Florent Arthaud, Kenzo Héas, Manon Salerno, Chloé Chabert, Patrick Perret, Sophie Cauvy-Fraunié, Jean-Christophe Clément, Jérôme Poulenard, Jean-Baptiste Bosson

    # Haute-Savoie
    # French Alps
    #Spatial analysis
    # Data collection on the field

    In 2022, we carried out field campaigns in 14 recently deglaciated areas in Haute-Savoie. We collected flora and fauna data in these areas, many of which had never been observed before, and carried out botanical surveys and aquatic invertebrate sampling at 40 and 9 stations respectively. A total of 251 species were observed, including 34 protected species. Some of these species are on the regional (3), national (4) and European (1) red lists. These field campaigns will be continued in 2023.

    In addition, we are performing remote sensing analysis, based on satellite images, to map and characterize the postglacial ecosystems developed in the French Alps since the Little Ice Age.
    Monitoring of the glacial lake Bionnassay

    # Florent Arthaud, #Kenzo Héas, #Jean-Baptiste Bosson

    # lac proglaciaire
    # Monitoring of the

    Since 2021, we installed many sensors (temperature, luminosity and oxygen) in the Lake Bionnassay (Saint-Gervais les Bains, APHN du Mont-Blanc). We are also carrying out chemical analyses of the water and zooplankton populations present to monitor the development of the food web in this body of water formed fifteen years ago. The data will shortly be integrated into the Sentinel Lakes network. Taken together, these activities will enable us to make an initial assessment of the deglaciated zones in Haute-Savoie. Data collection and analysis of postglacial ecosystems will be further developed during the 2023-2024 campaigns.


    Why and how do we have to protect glaciers and postglacial ecosystems?

    Glaciers and emerging postglacial ecosystems cover huge areas on Earth and are of key importance for the climate, the water cycle, the distribution of biodiversity (etc.). While they remain barely considered in nature conservation agendas and policies, increasing their protection appears as a major priority and the actions carried out in Ice&Life aim to contribute to this. 

    The protection of these key ecosystems obviously mainly relies on the global acceleration of climate change mitigation. In this context, Ice&Life seeks to increase the consideration and use of glaciers as a leverage to enhance global awareness and actions (following the example of what has been proposed by Bosson et al., 2019 in the scientific article Disappearing World Heritage Glaciers as a Keystone of Nature Conservation in a Changing Climate, or done in Switzerland since 2019 through the “Glacier Initiative”). 


    In addition to the indirect approach of climate change mitigation, Ice&Life is developing and proposing advocacy and concrete solutions to increase in-situ protection of glaciers and postglacial ecosystems through the creation of protected areas, the recognition of ecosystems that are locally de facto protected (for instance emerging wetlands) and the expansion of environmental legislation. Protecting strongly glaciated and recently deglaciated areas as of today enable to proactively protect these key changing ecosystems (regardless their glacial or postglacial fate), guarantee their free evolution, their functioning and the ecosystem services they provide, and limit the development of unsustainable and impacting human activities on their surface. 

    Since 2021, the actions lead in Ice&Life have allowed to…
    Develop the arguments
    Develop the arguments for protecting these key ecosystems in a document entitled in french "Pourquoi et comment protéger les glaciers et les écosystèmes qui leur succèdent". This document will be finalized in 2023, with the participation of legal experts, and distributed to local stakeholders, particularly policymakers.
    Share these arguments with other stakeholders and with the policymakers
    Sharing these ideas and exchanging views with a wide range of local stakeholders (elected representatives, public authorities, companies, socio-economic actors, citizens) during formal and informal exchanges at public conferences, field trips, etc. The ideas developed for protecting these ecosystems in the Ice&Life project have, for example, been presented at more than forty conferences since 2021.
    Create a committee of ambassadors
    Create a committee of ambassadors (iconic personalities) to relay the key scientific and protection messages.
    Contribute to create a new protected area over the Mont-Blanc
    Contribute to the creation of the “Arrêté Préfectoral de Protection des Habitats Naturels (APHN) du Mont-Blanc - Site d'Exception” by the French government in 2020, covering 32 km2 around the summit of Mont-Blanc. Although this work was carried out before the official launch of Ice&Life, the ideas and scientific knowledge behind this project were largely used to produce the "scientific arguments for the creation of the Mont-Blanc APHN", which we drew up, at Asters-CEN74, upon request of the French State.

    Team and partners

    The Ice&Life project has been developed by the glaciologist Jean-Baptiste Bosson within the scientific service of Asters, the Conservatoire d'Espace Naturels de Haute-Savoie (Asters-CEN74) since 2021. One of Asters-CEN74's missions is to develop knowledge of natural environments and support local authorities in preserving them. The Conservatoire manages the 9 national nature reserves (including a dozen glaciers) in Haute-Savoie on behalf of the French government, and was involved in the creation of the Arrêté de Protection des Habitats Naturels (APHN) du Mont-Blanc in 2020. 
    The project team includes ecologists from Asters-CEN74 and WWF-France, as well as scientists from various research laboratories. A committee of ambassadors is being set up to help disseminate the results and recommendations for protection.

    The team

    at Asters


    The team

    À WWF-France


    The team

    Scientific committee

    Former financial partners

    Thanks for the initial help to develop the project :