Snow and perennial ice
Haeberli & Stöckli

Snow and ice are important components of high-mountain landscapes but have markedly different characteristics and functions within corresponding ecosystems.


  G L A C I E R S
primarily depends on short-term developments of weather conditions and constitutes a “nervous interface” between atmo-, cryo-, hydro-, bio- and lithospheric phenomena, processes and interactions at high altitudes.   are “safe indicators” of long-term climatic changes. Their general shrinking tendency represents a key indication of changes within the complex climate system that are both rapid and worldwide.


Observe the possible change of mean temperature and the position of the glacier tongue of the Vadret da Morteratsch between 1973 and 2082:

Different positions of the Vadret da Morteratsch, calculated and visualized by S. Biegger, 2003

M. Maisch illustrates a future scenario of the development around the retreating glacier. You can have a look at the glaciation in the past in the lesson Quaternary paleoenvironments - results. The Kantonsschule Zürcher Unterland produced some interesting photos and 360° panoramas of the glacier in its present state (German).

Such changes in climate as you have seen in the animation are also most likely to induce substantial effects and long-term disequilibria within deep layers of the perennially frozen slopes mainly occurring above the alpine timberline. Due to the slow diffusion of heat in the ground, the response of permafrost – the „invisible deep disturbance“ - to climate change involves a great deal of inertia but is also very long lasting.

The last part of this double lesson will give you more information about this topic. But first have a look at the characteristics of snow and glaciers.

Learning objectives Thermal conductivity Radiation in snow Alpine snow Flow temperature Ice formation & firn facies Energy and mass balance Permafrost Mechanics Ice content Thermal conditions Distribution patterns and interactions Snow/permafrost glaciers Cryosphere scheme and models Environmental aspects Review test Alpine glaciers Temporal & spatial distribution Physical & chemical characteristics Snow melt Learning objectives Alpine glaciers Ice formation Energy and mass balance Flow temperature Permafrost Thermal conditions Ice content Mechanics Distribution patterns and interactions Cryosphere scheme and models Snow/permafrost glaciers Environmental aspects Review test


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29 August 2011
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