Glaciers will vanish from the Pyrenees within the next 30 years because of climate change and pollution, scientists have warned.
Glaciers have already shrunk by half in the past 20 years in the mountains on the border between France and Spain, according to a report by scientists who monitor them for Moraine, the local environmental group.
"Pyrenean glaciers are doomed," said Pierre René, an expert on glaciers.
René said it was impossible to give an exact date for their disappearance, but predicted that it would happen by 2050. The glaciers feed rivers and contribute to biodiversity. Their ice helps keep mountainsides stable.
The report by the group, which has measured the length, surface area and thickness of nine of the 15 glaciers in the French Pyrenees for 18 years, says they are now shrinking at an annual rate of 3.6ha.
The surface area of the nine glaciers now totals 79ha compared with 140ha 17 years ago.
"We are seeing the disappearance of the symbol of the Pyrenean landscape in the high mountains," René said.
He said mountainsides may begin to crumble without the "cementing effect" of glacier ice.
The Pic d'Arriel glacier, in the west of the Pyrenees, disappeared permanently following a heatwave last summer, the Pyrenees Climate Change Observatory, another environmental group, reported in November.
Sophie Cauvy-Fraunié, of the French Agricultural Research Institute, said: "Organisms adapted to special conditions, cold and cloudy water where little light penetrates, live in glaciers and the rivers they feed. They can be micro-invertebrates, bacteria and fungi.
"If species endemic to the Pyrenees depend on the influence of glaciers, it is probable that they will become extinct."
The Aneto glacier, at one of the highest points in the Pyrenees, is shrinking rapidly, according to Christophe Dedieu of the Météo Pyrénées website.
"It was 100m thick in the 20th century, but now only 10 to 20m are left."
Higher summer temperatures cause snow that falls in winter to melt faster, leaving glacier ice exposed and more prone to melt, Dedieu said.
Combined with decreasing winter snowfall in recent years, the effect has been devastating.