Saudi Arabia, 10 Arab Countries to Cooperate on Space Program

Pan-Arab body for space program announced. (AFP)
Pan-Arab body for space program announced. (AFP)
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Saudi Arabia, 10 Arab Countries to Cooperate on Space Program

Pan-Arab body for space program announced. (AFP)
Pan-Arab body for space program announced. (AFP)

Eleven Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco on Tuesday signed on to the first regional team to cooperate on a space program, the UAE said.

"Today at the Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi, we attended the signing of a charter to establish the first Arab body for space cooperation, bringing together 11 Arab states," said Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum in comments carried by the government media office.

The pan-Arab team's first project is "a satellite that Arab scientists will work on from here in the UAE", he said, according to AFP.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed, the UAE's vice president and prime minister, vowed in 2017 to send four Emirati astronauts to the International Space Station by 2022.

The UAE announced last month that its first astronaut will blast off on a mission to the station on September 25.

The oil-rich Gulf state has two astronauts in training as it looks to get an ambitious space program aimed at exploring Mars off the ground.

The astronaut program would make the UAE one of only a handful of states in the Middle East to have sent a person into space, as it looks to make good on a pledge to become a global leader in space exploration.

The first Arab in outer space was Saudi Arabia's Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985.

Two years later, Syrian air force pilot Muhammed Faris spent a week aboard the Soviet Union's Mir space station.



Man Dies in Australia after Whale Collides with Boat

The full moon, a supermoon also known as the "Harvest Moon", rises above Macquarie Lighthouse and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney on September 29, 2023. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)
The full moon, a supermoon also known as the "Harvest Moon", rises above Macquarie Lighthouse and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney on September 29, 2023. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)
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Man Dies in Australia after Whale Collides with Boat

The full moon, a supermoon also known as the "Harvest Moon", rises above Macquarie Lighthouse and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney on September 29, 2023. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)
The full moon, a supermoon also known as the "Harvest Moon", rises above Macquarie Lighthouse and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney on September 29, 2023. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)

One man died and another was in hospital on Saturday in Australia after a whale struck and flipped their boat during a fishing expedition, authorities said.

Police said one man was pulled unconscious from Botany Bay, off the coast of Sydney, and later died, while the other was taken to hospital in a stable condition, police said.

"A whale has been involved, whoever would have thought that that would have occurred, it's terribly tragic," said New South Wales Police Minister Yasmin Catley.

According to Reuters, State Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib said it was "an absolute freak accident".

The boat "was likely to have struck or been impacted by a whale breaching, causing the boat to tilt, ejecting both men", police said in a statement. It did not identify the whale's species.

Australia's extensive coastline hosts 10 large and 20 smaller species of whales. While human deaths caused by whales in the region are rare, Australia and neighboring New Zealand are hot spots for mass whale strandings on beaches.

Eight Danes were rescued in June when their sailboat capsized in the Pacific Ocean after a collision with one or two whales.


New Study: Women Are Twice More Prone to ‘Severe’ Reaction to Flu Jab

A medical worker receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Medical Center. Reuters
A medical worker receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Medical Center. Reuters
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New Study: Women Are Twice More Prone to ‘Severe’ Reaction to Flu Jab

A medical worker receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Medical Center. Reuters
A medical worker receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Medical Center. Reuters

Women are twice as likely to suffer a “severe” reaction to the flu jab as men, a new study has revealed.

Analysis of 34,000 adults who received the flu vaccination between 2010 and 2018 found that 3 percent of women had a severe reaction, compared to just 1.5 percent of men, according to The Telegraph.

Researchers from the University of Montreal, Canada, classified severe reactions as symptoms such as high fevers over 39 degrees, or significant swelling, pain or rashes known as erythema, that led to people being unable to carry out daily tasks.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that women were also around a third more likely to suffer from other, less serious side effects than men.

It said that 38.6 percent of the 20,295 women analyzed had suffered side effects like headaches, vomiting, fevers and muscle aches after their vaccination, known as “systemic reactions”, compared with just 28.6 percent of the 13,860 men (around 29 percent fewer on the whole).

Rarely serious

The study said for every 1,000 people getting the flu vaccine, 74 more women would have these side effects than men.

Researchers also found that women were 31 percent more likely to get pain, swelling or an infection around the injection site. It said this happened to 44.6 percent of women and 33.9 percent of men.

Dr. Marilou Kiely, author of the report, said while “most reactions are mild, self-limited and rarely serious”, a bad reaction could “be a barrier” to having another vaccination.

“Transparent communication regarding the increased risk for females would potentially help sustain long-term trust in health authorities and vaccines,” she said.

Dr. Conall Watson, a consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said that “serious side effects are rare following a flu jab”.

Hospitalization and death

“Flu can cause very serious illness, hospitalization and death. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of flu - flu can trigger heart attacks, or lead to pneumonia, and can make existing medical conditions worse,” he said.

The NHS stresses that “severe allergic reactions” like anaphylaxis are very rare at around one in one million and that some of the reactions categorized as severe in this study, such as erythema, usually resolve on their own, even if they are uncomfortable.


Microplastics in Clouds May be Contributing to Climate Change, Research Suggests

Cumulonimbus clouds in Bornos, near Jerez de la Frontera, southern Spain, on Sunday. REUTERS
Cumulonimbus clouds in Bornos, near Jerez de la Frontera, southern Spain, on Sunday. REUTERS
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Microplastics in Clouds May be Contributing to Climate Change, Research Suggests

Cumulonimbus clouds in Bornos, near Jerez de la Frontera, southern Spain, on Sunday. REUTERS
Cumulonimbus clouds in Bornos, near Jerez de la Frontera, southern Spain, on Sunday. REUTERS

Researchers have found tiny particles of plastic in clouds, where they may be contributing to climate change.

Scientists collected water from the clouds surrounding Japan's Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama at altitudes between 1,300-3,776m and then applied advanced imaging techniques to determine whether microplastics were present, reported Sky News.

Nine different types of polymers and one type of rubber were found in the airborne microplastics, at concentrations between 6.7-13.9 pieces per liter and sizes ranging between 7.1-94.6 micrometers.

They also found an abundance of hydrophilic (or water-loving) polymers, which they said might act as "cloud condensation nuclei" - suggesting they play a key role in rapid cloud formation, which might eventually affect the overall climate.

"Overall, our findings suggest that high-altitude microplastics could influence cloud formation and, in turn, might modify the climate," the scientists wrote in the study, published in the journal Environmental Chemical Letters.

"To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to detect airborne microplastics in cloud water in both the free troposphere and atmospheric boundary layer."

The lead author of the research, Hiroshi Okochi of Waseda University, said: "Microplastics in the free troposphere are transported and contribute to global pollution. If the issue of 'plastic air pollution' is not addressed proactively, climate change and ecological risks may become a reality, causing irreversible and serious environmental damage in the future."

Airborne microplastics degrade much faster in the upper atmosphere due to strong ultraviolet radiation, Okochi added, which "releases greenhouse gases and contributes to global warming."

The researchers said this is the first report on airborne microplastics in cloud water.

In a statement about the study, Waseda University said research shows "microplastics are ingested or inhaled by humans and animals alike and have been detected in multiple organs such as lung, heart, blood, placenta, and feces".

"10 million tons of these plastic bits end up in the ocean, released with the ocean spray, and find their way into the atmosphere. This implies that microplastics may have become an essential component of clouds, contaminating nearly everything we eat and drink via plastic rainfall," it said.


Cyprus Releases Endangered Vultures to Boost Population

A griffon vulture is seen in an acclimatization aviary near the village of Korfi, Cyprus September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
A griffon vulture is seen in an acclimatization aviary near the village of Korfi, Cyprus September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
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Cyprus Releases Endangered Vultures to Boost Population

A griffon vulture is seen in an acclimatization aviary near the village of Korfi, Cyprus September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
A griffon vulture is seen in an acclimatization aviary near the village of Korfi, Cyprus September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Conservationists in Cyprus released griffon vultures into the wild on Friday, in the latest attempt to boost a critically endangered population of the scavenger birds.
Once thriving, the number of vultures on the east Mediterranean island is the smallest in Europe as accidental poisoning or changing farming techniques have left them short of food.
Fourteen vultures from Spain were released into the hills north of the city of Limassol on Friday, bringing the vulture population now to "about" 29, Reuters said.
Project coordinators BirdLife, the island's Game Service, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and Terra Cypria released 15 griffons into the wild last year. Of those, 11 have survived.
Conservationists have in the past made several attempts to boost the vulture population, including importing birds from Crete. Surveys have shown that without timely intervention to address the causes of vulture deaths the birds could become extinct on the island within 15 years, the organizations said.
"Losing a vulture is frequent, and that is something that is particularly worrying," conservationists said in a statement.
Considered a natural garbage disposal unit, vultures feed off dead animal carcasses, which is an effective way to prevent the spread of disease.
But they can die if they feed off a carcass which had itself been poisoned - the fox, considered a threat by some farmers to livestock, is frequently targeted. The use of poisonous baits in Cyprus is illegal but is known to occur.
A number of the birds were fitted with satellite trackers a day before their release on Thursday to monitor their movements.
All vultures released in the past year were donated by the Extremadura region of Spain, which hosts 90-95% of Europe's vulture population. Another 15 vultures will arrive and be released next year.


Red Sea International Film Festival Announces Baz Luhrmann as Head of Jury for 2023 Edition

Red Sea International Film Festival Announces Baz Luhrmann as Head of Jury for 2023 Edition
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Red Sea International Film Festival Announces Baz Luhrmann as Head of Jury for 2023 Edition

Red Sea International Film Festival Announces Baz Luhrmann as Head of Jury for 2023 Edition

The Red Sea International Film Festival has said that internationally renowned writer, director and producer Baz Luhrmann will preside over the festival's Red Sea: Features Competition Jury this year.
The festival's third edition will take place from November 30 to December 9 in Jeddah.
The Red Sea: Features Competition will showcase various films from filmmakers from the Arab region, Asia and Africa.

SPA quoted Luhrmann saying: "After visiting Saudi Arabia, I felt truly inspired by the remarkable young filmmaking talent coming up across the region. It's an honour to be presiding over this year's Red Sea International Film Festival's Jury and to be part of the evolution of change that is happening through cinema across the Arab region, Asia and Africa."

For 2022, the Golden Yusr for Best Feature Film was awarded to "Hanging Gardens", directed by Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji.


KSrelief Medical Team Conducts Open-heart Surgery with New Technology in Yemen

SPA
SPA
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KSrelief Medical Team Conducts Open-heart Surgery with New Technology in Yemen

SPA
SPA

The Cardiology professor at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University Dr. Yasser Elghoneimy led a medical team at the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) to perform the first open-heart surgery with new technology for a man in his 30's from Taiz Governorate, Yemen.

This assistance comes as part of the "Saudi Pulse" voluntary program for heart diseases and surgeries, which is being implemented in Al-Mukalla in Hadramout Governorate, SPA reported.

The KSrelief funds this program and aims to provide open-heart and cardiac catheterization procedures to low-income families who cannot afford the treatment.


Flooded Homes, Streets as Another Storm Hits Battered Central Greece 

A view of a flooded street amid storm Elias in the city of Volos, Greece, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)
A view of a flooded street amid storm Elias in the city of Volos, Greece, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)
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Flooded Homes, Streets as Another Storm Hits Battered Central Greece 

A view of a flooded street amid storm Elias in the city of Volos, Greece, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)
A view of a flooded street amid storm Elias in the city of Volos, Greece, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)

Torrential rain battered central Greece, flooding streets, homes and businesses in the city of Volos just three weeks after devastating Storm Daniel killed 16 people in the wider region.

More than 250 people have been evacuated from the area since Storm Elias struck on Wednesday afternoon, the fire brigade said on Thursday, adding that it had so far received 1,200 calls for help.

The storm hit Volos with rain so heavy that water levels in the city and its suburbs rose rapidly in a few hours. A nearby stream overflowed, adding to the flooding.

The mayor of Volos said that by Wednesday night, power outages caused by the storm and flooding had plunged 80% of the city into darkness. Authorities have stopped all vehicles from going onto the roads.

"People can't stand this anymore. I cannot understand nature's rage. Protect yourselves," said Mayor Achilleas Beos, urging people to stay home.

By Thursday morning, the storm had moved towards the island of Evia, a fire brigade official said. Some villages in northern Evia have been ordered to evacuate, state ERT TV said.

Storm Elias is the second major storm to hit the region since Daniel, the most intense storm to hit Greece since records began in 1930, battered the region for three days earlier in September.

Many Volos residents said the authorities were still dealing with the aftermath of Daniel and had not been adequately prepared for another storm.

"This was foretold," said Yannis Gavanoudis, a 70-year-old pensioner. "They (authorities) didn't do their job properly."

Daniel turned central Greece into an inland sea, flooding homes, damaging road infrastructure and farms near Volos, Karditsa and Larissa.

Tens of thousands of animals drowned and crops were washed away, and residents of the flooded areas are still struggling to recover from the impact.

Storm Daniel also wrought devastation across the Mediterranean, moving from Greece to Libya, where over 2,500 died in a huge flood in the city of Derna.


Washington Says Goodbye to Pandas Amid Bitter US-China Backdrop 

Mei Xiang, a female Giant Panda, investigates a birthday cake presented to her on his 25th birthday at the National Zoo in Washington, US, July 22, 2023.
Mei Xiang, a female Giant Panda, investigates a birthday cake presented to her on his 25th birthday at the National Zoo in Washington, US, July 22, 2023.
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Washington Says Goodbye to Pandas Amid Bitter US-China Backdrop 

Mei Xiang, a female Giant Panda, investigates a birthday cake presented to her on his 25th birthday at the National Zoo in Washington, US, July 22, 2023.
Mei Xiang, a female Giant Panda, investigates a birthday cake presented to her on his 25th birthday at the National Zoo in Washington, US, July 22, 2023.

No matter the distance or the weather, Jane Christensen was determined to see the giant pandas before they left Washington.

Now in her 60s, Christensen told AFP she had been captured by the species' magical cuteness over a half-century ago, when China first gifted two pandas to the United States.

"I've had 'panda-monium' ever since,' she said under a chilly rain outside the Smithsonian National Zoo's panda exhibit - hundreds of miles from her home in Michigan.

All three of the zoo's pandas are leaving for China by the end of the year, bringing at least a temporary end to a decades-old connection between the cuddly animal and the US capital.

The zoo has kicked off a week-long "Panda Palooza" event ahead of the departure, welcoming thousands of fans, many outfitted in panda-themed hats and shirts.

And while the pandas' departure had been expected due to contractual obligations, many can't help but see the shift as reflective of the growing strains between Beijing and Washington.

The first black-and-white furballs arrived from China in 1972, as a gift following then-president Richard Nixon's historic visit to the Communist-led nation.

Recognizing the species' uncanny ability to attract fans -- and a potential source of income for its conservation program -- China continued to loan out pandas to Washington and other zoos around the world, since dubbed "Panda Diplomacy."

At the Smithsonian zoo, millions of dollars have been spent on the pandas' enclosure and studies, especially related to breeding, including a popular 24-hour "Panda Cam" to monitor their behavior and health.

"We've been watching on the live cam every day leading up to this point," said Heidi Greco, who traveled hours by car from Ohio with her family.

Her daughter Stormy, who had on a panda hat and carried a just-bought panda umbrella, is "obsessed with pandas," Greco said.

The family had watched the pandas make some laps around their separate outdoor enclosures, then passed through an indoor viewing area where visitors can watch the animals eat snacks and bamboo up close.

"When I heard that these pandas were leaving, and the Atlanta Zoo pandas were leaving, and there would be no panda bears left in all of North America... (except) one very old one in Mexico, I was really, really upset," said Greco.

Zoo Atlanta, in the southern US state of Georgia, will send its four pandas to China by late 2024.

'Soft power'

Pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived in Washington in 2000, and have since had four surviving cubs. Xiao Qi Ji ("Little Miracle" in English) was born in 2020 and will also depart by December.

During Xi Jinping's state visit in 2015, the last by a Chinese leader to the United States, his wife and the US first lady held an official ceremony to unveil the name of panda cub Bei Bei.

Eight years later, with mounting tensions over Taiwan and continuing trade disputes between the two powers, the panda exhibit is about to be closed.

The Chinese government tends to "bestow" pandas on "nations with whom China's relations are on the upswing, as a form of soft power projection," said Kurt Tong, a former high-ranking US diplomat and managing partner of the Asia Group consultancy.

"In that respect, given the current tenor of US-China relations it is not surprising that Chinese authorities are allowing panda contracts with US zoos to expire," Tong said in an email to AFP.

He noted that the loans also help China "augment the panda conservation budget."

The Smithsonian pays $500,000 annually to its Chinese conservation group partner, the zoo said.

The pandas' departure "closes a major chapter of an international animal care and conservation success story," the zoo said in a statement, adding that it "remains committed to continuing its efforts to secure and safeguard a healthy future for giant pandas."

One attendee saying her goodbyes at the zoo highlighted successful efforts to grow the wild population of pandas.

"We've come a long way in getting the numbers back up," said Michaela from Maryland, who had her face painted like a panda. The species remains listed as vulnerable.

As the rain let up, a steady stream of visitors began filling the area around the panda's outdoor enclosure.

Known for being a bit sluggish, the panda made repeated laps around the acre-sized plot, climbing up and down the hills -- making sure everyone got one good, final snapshot.


Guinean Student Cycles Across Africa for Place at Egypt's Al-Azhar University 

Mamadou Safaiou Barry, a 25-year-old from Guinea, looks on in front of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, September 23, 2023. (Reuters)
Mamadou Safaiou Barry, a 25-year-old from Guinea, looks on in front of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, September 23, 2023. (Reuters)
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Guinean Student Cycles Across Africa for Place at Egypt's Al-Azhar University 

Mamadou Safaiou Barry, a 25-year-old from Guinea, looks on in front of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, September 23, 2023. (Reuters)
Mamadou Safaiou Barry, a 25-year-old from Guinea, looks on in front of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, September 23, 2023. (Reuters)

Mamadou Safaiou Barry was determined to study Islamic theology at an elite school. Unable to afford a flight to Egypt from Guinea, he drew a map of Africa in his spiral notebook and set off on a second-hand mountain bike.

Carrying only a change of clothes, a flashlight and a screwdriver, the 25-year-old cycled thousands of kilometers across the continent, passing through jungles, deserts and conflict zones in the hope of landing a place and finding a way to fund it.

Four months and seven countries later, he is in Cairo with a full scholarship to Al-Azhar University, one of the world's oldest and most renowned Sunni Muslim learning institutions.

"If you have a dream, stay with it and be strong," Barry said. "God will help you."

Thousands of West Africans like Barry undertake risky journeys across the Sahara desert each year, searching for a better life.

Many never make it. Nearly 500 people died or disappeared on West African migration routes last year, data from the International Organization for Migration shows.

Barry decided the risk was worth the reward.

"I had to fight," Barry said last month in Chad.

Covering approximately 100 km each day, Barry pedaled through Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, and Niger before stalling in N'Djamena, the Chadian capital, shaken from his planned route by an ongoing conflict in Sudan.

He said he had already been detained three times - twice in insurgency-plagued Burkina Faso and once in Togo, where security forces held him for nine days without charge before releasing him in exchange for 35,000 CFA francs ($56).

This was the entirety of his savings for the remainder of the journey, he said.

"I often slept in the bush because I was afraid of people in the cities," Barry said. "I thought they would take my bike and hurt me."

Barry's luck changed again in Chad after a local philanthropist, who had read online about his journey, offered to fly him directly to Egypt and bypass the fighting in Sudan.

Barry arrived in Cairo on Sept. 5 and days later secured a full scholarship to Al-Azhar. A photo shared widely on social media shows him meeting a beaming university representative.

He intends to return to Guinea when his studies are complete, to spread the faith that has taken him so far.

"When I return to my country, I would like to be someone who teaches Islam and tells people how to do good things," he said.


As Thaw Accelerates, Swiss Glaciers Lost 10% of Their Volume in Last 2 Years, Experts Say 

A pole to measure the decrease of ice is seen, amid climate change, on the Plaine Morte glacier in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, September 5, 2023. (Reuters)
A pole to measure the decrease of ice is seen, amid climate change, on the Plaine Morte glacier in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, September 5, 2023. (Reuters)
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As Thaw Accelerates, Swiss Glaciers Lost 10% of Their Volume in Last 2 Years, Experts Say 

A pole to measure the decrease of ice is seen, amid climate change, on the Plaine Morte glacier in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, September 5, 2023. (Reuters)
A pole to measure the decrease of ice is seen, amid climate change, on the Plaine Morte glacier in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, September 5, 2023. (Reuters)

A Swiss Academy of Sciences panel is reporting a dramatic acceleration of glacier melt in the Alpine country, which has lost 10% of its ice volume in just two years after high summer heat and low snow volumes in winter.

Switzerland — home to the most glaciers of any country in Europe — has seen 4% of its total glacier volume disappear in 2023, the second-biggest decline in a single year on top of a 6% drop in 2022, the biggest thaw since measurements began, the academy’s commission for cryosphere observation said.

Experts at the GLAMOS glacier monitoring center have been on the lookout for a possible extreme melt this year amid early warning signs about the country's estimated 1,400 glaciers, a number that is now dwindling.

"The acceleration is dramatic, with as much ice being lost in only two years as was the case between 1960 and 1990," the academy said. "The two extreme consecutive years have led to glacier tongues collapsing and the disappearance of many smaller glaciers."

The team said the "massive ice loss" stemmed from a winter with very low volumes of snow — which falls on top of glaciers and protects them from exposure to direct sunlight — and high summer temperatures.

All of Switzerland — where the Alps cut a swath through most of the southern and central parts of the country — was affected, though glaciers in the southern and eastern regions melted almost as fast as in 2022's record thaw.

"Melting of several meters was measured in southern Valais (region) and the Engadin valley at a level above 3,200 meters (10,500 feet), an altitude at which glaciers had until recently preserved their equilibrium," the team said.

The average loss of ice thickness was up to 3 meters (10 feet) in places such as the Gries Glacier in Valais, the Basòdino Glacier in the southern canton, or region, of Ticino, and the Vadret Pers glacier system in eastern Graubunden.

The situation in some parts of the central Bernese Oberland and the Valais was less dramatic — such as for the Aletsch Glacier in Valais and Plaine Morte Glacier in the canton of Bern, because they enjoyed more winter snowfall. But even in such areas, "a loss of over 2 meters of the average ice thickness is extremely high," the team said.

Snow depths measured in the first half of February were generally higher than in the winters of 1964, 1990 or 2007, which were also characterized by low snowfalls, the team said. But snow levels sank to a new record low in the second half of the month of February, reaching only about 30% of the long-term average.

Over half of automated monitoring stations above 2,000 meters that have been in place for at least a quarter-century tallied record-low levels of snow at the time.

After that, an "extremely warm June" caused snow to melt 2 to 4 weeks earlier than usual, and mid-summer snowfalls melted very quickly, the team said.