SEHAG experts explain glaciers under climate change in ARTE documentary

In their research, members of the SEHAG research unit are investigating the manifestations of climate change in the Alps since the end of the „Little Ice Age“ and its consequences for water balance, vegetation and the shaping of landforms. Recently, Ben Marzeion and Florian Haas, project leaders of subprojects 1 (climate and glaciers) and 3 (geomorphological processes on hillslopes), respectively, were interviewed by the authors of the ARTE documentary series „42 – the answer to almost everything“.

Together with glaciologist Angelika Humbert (Alfred Wegener Institute), they explain the findings of science around the formation and properties of glaciers and their response to climate change. A good example of science communication, in our opinion!

The program can be viewed here in the ARTE media library.

SEHAG Field Meeting, July 28th-30th, Kaunertal

The members of the SEHAG research group met for this year’s field meeting in the Kaunertal valley.

After the working groups arrived at the common accommodation at noon on June 28, the first task was maintenance work on the climate station. The time was also used to discuss vegetation development and formation dynamics on the right lateral moraines of the Gepatschferner glacier. In parallel, members of the Eichstätt working group acquired aerial imagery of the Fernergrieß with the new RTK drone; the images will be used for new mapping and digital elevation models in this subarea.

On the second day, the group met Dr. Johannes Schöber from TIWAG, who showed us the measuring equipment at the Gepatschalm gauge, and with whom we exchanged views on the research work in the SEHAG project.

Everybody was then excited to witness the first test measurements with the new NORBIT multibeam echo sounder of the Eichstätt working group. This had been successfully applied for and purchased with the second phase of SEHAG in order to be able to determine the depth and characteristics of a lake or sea bed or of a river bed with high resolution and accuracy. The test measurement was preceded by extensive preparatory work such as the construction of mounts and the assembly of the technology for the precise localization of the measuring equipment using GPS and inertial sensors. Florian Haas, who had carried out all this work over the past weeks, launched the inflatable boat on the morning of June 30. The test measurement was successful, as the first look at the data showed. Like the point clouds from the airborne LiDAR survey, these now need to be processed until we can view and analyze a detailed underwater terrain model. In combination with the terrain surface before the construction of the Gepatschstausee, these data will allow, for example, the quantification of the sediment volume deposited in the lake since commissioning of the dam, and the average annual sediment load from the catchment area, where the subprojects of the SEHAG research group want to detect, understand and in the future also predict climate change impacts.

The second day was also used for installation and maintenance work on the hydrological measuring equipment of the Munich SEHAG subproject and for a visit to the glacier front of the Gepatschferner. Again and again it becomes apparent that mapping and modeling should best be complemented with terrain observations…

On the last day, due to the weather, the group retreated to the meeting room at the hotel and discussed the upcoming field work, future meetings and the plan to publish the main results of the SEHAG research group in an open-access publication.

Rainfall simulations in the glacier forefield of the Grastalferner

In mid-August 2022, a research visit lasting several days was carried out in the Horlachtal in the glacier forefield of the Grastalferner at an altitude of approx. 2900 metres above sea level. Dr Peter Fischer (Department of Soil Geography & Soil Erosion at KU), Moritz Altmann, Jakob Rom, Fabian Fleischer, Eva Schien and Christian Sender were involved in this field campaign as scientific staff. Using a rainfall simulation system and the Erosion3D model, the fluvial erosion patterns of these areas are to be simulated. The aim was therefore to carry out various rainfall simulations on the loose material of the lateral moraine and to take corresponding soil physical parameters, which then have to be analysed in the laboratory for the modelling. The measurements lasted one hour each, with a rainfall intensity of 40 mm per hour, which corresponds to a heavy rainfall event. The area of interest of one square metre was photogrammetrically recorded both before and after the rainfall simulation in order to determine corresponding erosion processes using a DEM of difference (DoD). Using prognosticated precipitation data up to 2050, the future morphodynamics of these areas are to be estimated. The rainfall simulation system was transported to the glacier forefield by helicopter due to its weight and the difficult accessibility of the terrain.

Setting up the rainfall simulation system on a steep slope.
Carrying out the rainfall simulation.
Area of interest during the rainfall simulation.
Transport of the rainfall simulation system into the glacier forefield of the Grastalferner.
The camp during sunrise.

How will the high Alpine landscape change due to glacier retreat by 2050?

In March, field work was carried out on the Weisssee-, Gepatsch-, Zufall- and Fürkele-glaciers in the Kaunertal and Martelltal valleys as part of the research project SEHAG. The aim was to record the topography under the glaciers in order to obtain a picture of the future mountain landscape today. Scientists from the KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Mountain Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW, Kay Helfricht and Martin Stocker-Waldhuber) and the Institute for Alpine Environment at Eurac Research jointly carried out georadar measurements and terrestrial laser scans on site. The people and material involved were brought to the measurement site by helicopter due to the remote location and the heavy weight. The area was surveyed that is expected to be ice-free by 2050. The data help the scientists to model the processes that will take place in the future and to make better forecasts.

SEHAG follow-up started

Our follow-up applications were successful ! SEHAG is going to continue research for the next three years. During the second phase of our project, we will not only further improve our knowledge and understanding of past geosystem changes but will also focus on the future (until the year 2050). For both aims, we will utilise computer models, not only regarding meteorological forcing (for the reconstruction of past climate and projections of future development, depending on emission scenarios) but also regarding glacier melt, runoff formation, evolution of landforms and vegetation.

The research unit has also changed with respect to working groups and staff. A team at the Institute for Alpine Environment at EURAC, Bolzano has taken over research in vegetation development (subproject 7). Research in hydrological changes (subproject 2) will be continued by TU Munich, joined by the Hydrology Unit at the Institute of Geography at the university of Bern, Switzerland.

SEHAG in the DFG Calendar 2022 „Digitalisation“

This year’s edition of the DFG calendar focuses on the topic „Digitalisation“ and presents 12 DFG-funded projects that use digital processes in their work. The photo submitted by the SEHAG Group as part of a competition represents the month of March.

The image shows a historical photo (from 1924) that has been positioned over a current orthophoto from 2020 and a digital elevation model using photogrammetric methods by determining the exact location of the photographer at that time. The modelled glacier surface from 1924 shows the strong changes of the Gepatschferner in the Kaunertal. The glacier has lost a thickness of about 100 metres at this point. The length of the glacier has decreased by about 2 kilometres since 1924.

The calendar is available for download here.

Research in a nutshell

How can a complicated scientific question be presented in 90 seconds? That was the task for the doctoral students and postdocs of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt at this year’s Young Researcher Day 2021. This day was aimed at all doctoral students and postdocs at KU with various offers, such as scientific career planning. The task was to present the own research project in a short video. The winners were the three doctoral students Moritz Altmann, Jakob Rom and Fabian Fleischer from the SEHAG subproject Hillslope processes. The video shows the journey from Eichstätt to one of the study areas, the geomorphological slope processes to be studied, the various ways of measuring the earth’s surface, the processing of historical digital elevation models and several successive shaded elevation models that make the dynamics of the slope processes visible. The results show firstly the high geomorphological activity and instability of a recently deglaciated lateral moraine and secondly the acceleration of a rock glacier that we have observed since the 1990s.

The winner’s video can be viewed on the Facebook page of the University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt.

Saving the Alps: Now on National Geographic

Since the TV premiere on 20.09.2021, the documentary “ Rettung für die Alpen – Unterwegs mit Felix Neureuther“ can be seen on the channels of National Geographic. In conversation with many experts, climate change in the Alpine region is illuminated and the consequences it has for the geosystems in the high mountains are shown. As part of the filming, Felix Neureuther was also a guest at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Florian Haas and his team presented the research activities of the SEHAG research group and showed how changes in the high alpine geosystems can be derived from historical maps and historical photographs.

An excerpt from the documentary, in which Felix Neureuther is a guest in Eichstätt, can be viewed HERE on the Youtube channel of National Geographic Germany (video is in German).

Repeated ALS survey of the study valleys

Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) is a method of scanning the earth’s surface from the air with a laser beam while recording the reflected signal. From this point cloud, the earth’s surface can be displayed in 3D with a very high degree of accuracy. Using this data, researchers in SEHAG can detect changes in the landscape by comparing these models with older ones. This could be the melting of glaciers, debris flows or vegetation growth. From 22.09.2021 to 24.9.2021, all three valleys of the SEHAG project were flown and recorded. The flight duration amounted to approx. 6-7 hours per valley. The valleys were flown over systematically so that a good data set could be collected for the entire area.

Before the start, all technical equipment, such as the mobile laser scanner, must be checked (Photo Anton Brandl).
The data is collected in real time (Photo Anton Brandl).
The Gepatschferner in the Kaunertal from the helicopter (Photo Anton Brandl).

SEHAG meets Ötztal Tourism Association

On June 30th, 2021, six employees of the Ötztal Tourism Association visited the Grastal (Horlach valley). On site, they met with two members of the SEHAG research project: Katharina Ramskogler (Universität Innsbruck) and Jakob Rom (KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt). They explained the key points of the research project to the interested employees of the Tourism Association. With the help of illustrative material and the environmental features of the Grastal, they referred to ongoing research work and preliminary results. The subsequent discussion about the significant changes in the mountains in the course of climate change was very informative for all participants.

We are looking forward to continuing the cooperation with the Ötztal Tourism Association!