In 2010, the activities of Italian community of permafrost and periglacial researchers were undertaken at Universities, Research Institutes, Public bureaus (Provinces, Regions) and Foundations. These researches cover most of the Alpine arch,  the central area of the Apennine chain and the Antarctic. Some of these activities were funded by European Projects (Alcotra "Glariskalp”–Glacial risk in the Western Alps", PermaNET "Permafrost long-term monitoring network", Interreg III RiskNat -activities b1- c1: “Hazards deriving from high mountain environment evolution"), other by national or local research projects (i.e. PRIN 2008 " Climate Change effects on glaciers, permafrost and derived water resource. Quantification of the ongoing variations in the Italian Alps, analysis of their impacts and modelling future projections") .

The research activities carried out by M. Chiarle, G. Mortara and M. Arattano (CNR-IRPI, Turin) regarded geomorphological processes and hazard in alpine periglacial areas of Western Alps, with a specific focus on the impacts of permafrost degradation. This activity was partly undertaken inside the European Project Alcotra (in cooperation with CNR-IGG, Turin). The results were compared with the data coming from the Canadian Cordillera thanks to the cooperation with J.J. Clague (Simon Fraser University) and M. Gertseema (British Columbia Forest Service). Among the other activities of this group, particularly interesting was the recording and analysis of acoustic emissions related to rock mass deformation at Capanna Carrel (Mt Cervino area), related to climatic factors and permafrost degradation.

Arpa Piemonte, within the European project "Permanet", in 2009 completed the installation of permafrost monitoring stations in the Piedmont Alps: 2 sites in the northern sector, 1 site in the central and two sites in the southern one. The stations (located between 2490 m and 3020 m asl of altitude) are characterized by vertical boreholes drilled in bedrock with variable depth: 1 borehole of 3.5 m, 1 borehole of 5 m, 1 borehole of 10 m, 4 boreholes of 30 m and one borehole of 100 m. This year, during the improvement of the stations, it was necessary to solve some technical problems that have prevented a full network operation. In addition, within the same project, several indirect surveys (BTS and electrical surveys) were carried out, and it is ongoing an analysis of regional climate data in order to implement a physical model for the evaluation of the permafrost potential distribution in Piedmont Alps . In collaboration with the Regione Piemonte (Civil Protection Department), Arpa Piemonte started some studies aimed to establish a monitoring system (with thermistors and estensimeters) of the southern ridge of Mt. Rocciamelone (at about 3000 m asl of elevation) characterized by active landslide since 2006. Finally, L. Paro (ARPA Piemonte) discussed his PhD thesis in Science and High Technology (Earth Sciences, University of Turin) on "Relationship between cryotic processes and block streams evolution in the Lanzo Ultrabasic Complex (Western Alps, Italy)".

 


Drilling of a 50-m borehole at Cavaion (Ortles Cevedale Group), one of the permaNET monitoring sites of the Italian Alps (Photograph provided by G. Zampedri)

In the Maritime and Cothian Alps (Western Alps), A. Ribolini (University of Pisa) participated to the activities of PermaNET project, carrying out a geophysical prospecting in the areas where two boreholes were eventually drilled. The geoelectrical tomographies  were placed also to verify the reliability of the permafrost modelling carried out by the University of Insubria (M. Guglielmin). Beside a general good agreement with the modelled permafrost distribution, the result evidenced resistivities potentially consistent with permafrost presence in the bedrock, and they will be compared and contrasted with the thermal data from boreholes when available.

In the area of Altopiano della Gardetta (Cothian Alps), several 25 and 200 MHz georadar profiles were undertaken on relict protalus ramparts at about 2,300 m asl (A. Ribolini). The objectives of this prospection is to analyse the reflectors architecture in order to speculate on the internal stratigraphy and, in turn, on the mechanism of formation and evolution of these landforms. A comparison with analogue acquisition from rock glaciers and moraines in the Maritime Alps is ongoing, in order to interpreter similarity in radar facies.

The thermal monitoring of the active layer of Vei del Bouc rock glacier and the Rocca dell'Abisso block field (Maritime Alps) is continuing hourly and at different depths (A. Ribolini, M. Spagnolo).

Boulders from rock glaciers in the Maritime Alps were sampled in order to date the age of stabilization by means of the cosmogenic radionuclides methods (A. Ribolini, M. Spagnolo).

In the framework of an international project aimed at the sea-level reconstruction during the Quaternary in the Argentinean Patagonia, sand wedges intruding beach ridge deposits attributed to the Marine Isotope Stage 5 (125.000 yrs BP) were sampled to determine chemical and mineralogical composition, as well as for OSL dating (A. Ribolini).

In the Aosta Valley Region, the monitoring and study of permafrost phenomena were carried out by the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection (www.arpa.vda.it) and Fondazione Montagna Sicura (www.fondms.org). With the Centro Funzionale of Regione Valle d’Aosta and the geoSITLab of the University of Torino they operated for the assessment of hazards related to permafrost evolution in high mountain areas and the management of the risks resulting from interactions with infrastructures located in permafrost.

The main ongoing activities are: i) maintenance and implementation (remote data transmission) of the regional monitoring network (surface boreholes in high-mountain rock walls, shallow and deep boreholes in gentle morphologies); ii) testing and validation of permafrost models; iii) the census of regional rock-glaciers (almost completed); iv) the maintenance and management of an alpine-wide collection of permafrost evidences; v) a multi-temporal monitoring of specific high-mountain rockfalls through terrlaestrial photogrammetry.

The Regional Environment Direction is partner of PermaNET project (Interreg Alpine-Space program, started in June 2008), while some bureau of the Regional Department for Soil Protection and Water Resources are involved in RiskNat project (Interreg ALCOTRA program, started in April 2009).
In some sites, the University of Torino pursues the research focused on soil development in recently deglaciated areas, soil characteristics at low elevation permafrost sites and soil development within patterned ground (in collaboration with the Gran Paradiso National Park and the Italian Meteorological Society). Moreover the University of Torino and ARPA VdA are working in different sites on the influence of snow properties (e.g. snow depth, density, temperature, resistivity, ...) on the soil thermal regime and the snowpack evolution on permafrost and glacier substrata.

A PhD thesis in Science and High Technology (Earth Sciences, University of Turin) was completed by P. Pogliotti on “Influence of snow cover on MAGST over complex morphologies in mountain permafrost regions” (Tutors: M. Giardino, S. Gruber).

The Insubria Research group (N. Cannone, M. Guglielmin, M. Dalle Fratte, F. Malfasi, A. Valentini, D. Bufalino) on permafrost and periglacial environments still going on the activities both in the Alps and in Antarctica. Within the Framework of the project PRIN 2008 and with the support of Valdidentro (SO) municipality it has been implemented the network of minidataloggers to study the relationships between the snow, vegetation and permafrost on the Foscagno Rock Glacier. Here more than 70 points located within and outside the rock glacier between 2300 and 2650 m asl are monitored both for snow height, vegetation phenology, ground surface temperature and BTS. On the same site also the description of the soils was carried out (more than 100 points analysed) and new electric tomography were repeated in order to reconstruct the hydrogeological structure of the rock glacier that feeds an important spring. In order to monitor the characteristics of this spring a new monitoring program of the water discharge has been implemented and it will realized the next year. The two automatic stations installed to monitor the thermal regime of two boreholes were upgraded for monitor also snow height all year round. In addition is going on also the GPS monitoring of the rock glacier dynamic with the cooperation of Milan University (C. D'Agata).

At Livigno (SO) it is also started a project to monitor CO2 fluxes in correspondence of two sites characterised by similar soils and vegetation types but with and without permafrost.
At Punta Helbronner still going on the monitoring of the permafrost thermal regime of the 64 m deep borehole in cooperation with the Funivie Monte Bianco.
In cooperation with Milano University (C. Smiraglia, C. Mihalcea and G.Diolaiuti) the thermal regime of the proglacial area of Sforzellina Glacier was monitored since 5 years ago. These data jointed with the results of the vegetation monitoring will allow to understand the recent evolution of the area that is a pilot area for the whole Central Alps. The monitoring of the rock faces thermal regime at Punta Helbronner (3430 m asl, AO) and Sforzellina Glacier (2850 m asl) was continued while a new site at Cima De Piazzi (3460 m asl; SO, with the sponsorship of an important mineral water company) was equipped this summer extending the network.

Within the framework of Share Stelvio project (leaded by G. Diolaiuti and funded by the Lombardy Region through EvK2CNR Committee) a very deep borehole (235 m) was drilled at Livrio site very close (10 m far) to the PACE project borehole (100 m deep) in order to verify the permafrost thickness calculated by thermal characteristics of the PACE borehole. This new borehole has been equipped with a new thermistors chain down to 235 m of depth confirming the permafrost presence down to the bottom of the borehole.

The Insubria group continued also to cooperate with Arpa Piemonte within Permanet Interreg project both to the management of the new network of 5 boreholes drilled last year and to the modelling of permafrost distribution and the calibration of this model through the electrical tomography and BTS measurements realized in several places distributed in all the Piemonte.
In addition, this year is started a PhD at Trieste University (Roberto Colucci) tutored by M. Guglielmin with the main objectives of verify the permafrost distribution of Friuli Venezia Giulia and to start the combined monitoring of three different types of cryosphere (Permafrost, Glacier and Ice in the cave) in the same site.
For the fourth time, the Department of Earth Sciences (University of Milan) and the Department of Environmental Sciences (University of Milan-Bicocca) (V. Maggi) participated to the organization of the International Workshop on Ice Caves (IWIC) (Obertraun, Austria, June 2010), an important appointment for  the community studying the caves with ice deposits. The venue of the workshop was the Dachstein Massif area, to celebrate the 100 years anniversary of Mammuthole cave exploration. About 70 participants, from 11 countries, provided more than 40 oral and poster communications on the main topics related to ice caves. Ice caves represent a particular environment were exist a very strong and delicate relationship between epigean climate and hypogean dynamics. The topics discussed during the workshop were meteorology, glaciology, palaeoclimatology of ice caves, as well as some socio-economic and historical aspects. Some excursions were organized in the Dechstain Massif and in 5 caves, included the Rieseneishole and the Eisreisenwelt ice caves, among the largest of Europe. For more informations about IWIC IV and the abstracts volume download please check: http://www.iwic2010.info. For any information please contact mbehm@mail.tuwien.ac.at.
Most of the permafrost activities in the Province of Trento are currently conducted in the framework of the permaNET project (Interreg Alpine-Space program, started in July 2008), under the coordination of the local project partner (Autonomous Province of Trento, Geological Survey), with the University of Pavia, (R. Seppi and M. Zumiani), the University of Padova, (A. Carton) and the University of Trento (M. Dall’Amico and R. Rigon). In the Ortles Cevedale Group, a 50 m borehole has been drilled in bedrock at 2900 m asl, and in late summer 2010 it will be equipped with a thermistor chain and a weather station. Two existing boreholes located at 3000 m asl are monitored to understand the relationships between the potential permafrost degradation and the observed movement of the slope. Furthermore, a) the dynamic behaviour of two active rock glaciers of the Adamello Presanella region is investigated by means of topographic surveys, b) BTS and GST measurements are carried out in several areas, c) a GIS-based rock glacier inventory of the whole Province of Trento is in progress, and d) modelling activities are performed to model the permafrost distribution in the Province.

Several activities were initiated in the framework of the PRIN 2008 project. The central-eastern Alps research unit is coordinated by the University of Padova (A. Carton, A. Bondesan, M. Meneghel, F. Ferrarese), with the collaboration of other universities and institutes (University of Pavia: R. Seppi; University of Padova: L. Carturan and G. Dalla Fontana; INOGS Trieste: R. Francese). The investigations focus on permafrost and periglacial areas of Adamello Presanella, Ortles Cevedale and Dolomite mountain groups, and include geomorphological observations, GST and geophysical measurements on rock glaciers and ice-cored moraines, and hydrological studies.

Chemical and physical analyses on high-altitude spring waters were recently initiated in Val di Peio (Ortles Cevedale Group) by the University of Padova (L. Carturan and G. Dalla Fontana), in collaboration with the University of Pavia (R. Seppi). After an initial stage, these studies are currently carried out in the framework of the IAEA-coordinated research project "Use of environmental isotopes in assessing water resources in snow, glacier, and permafrost dominated areas under changing climatic conditions", under the coordination of D. Penna (University of Padova). The investigations are intended to detect the chemical-physical signature of spring waters in relation to permafrost and to assess the possibility to map the permafrost distribution by means of systematic sampling of springs.

The main activities in Alto Adige/South Tyrol were mostly financed by the Interreg Project PermaNET, and coordinated by the Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano (V.Mair, K Lang). The project benefitted of the cooperation of the University of Innsbruck. The activities were mainly focused on  the realisation of two horizontal boreholes through the main chain of the Alps below the Grawand-Peak, and two vertical boreholes (with extraction of the frozen cores) on an active rock glacier on the Lazaun- Alpe. Both sites are located in Val Senales/ Schnals Valley.

 


Ice encountered during the Lazaun rockglacier drilling (Val Senales, Alto Adige) (Photograph provided by K. Lang)

The motive forces for the realisation of the boreholes through the Grawand-Peak (3.251 m s.l.m.) were problems of rockfalls on the glacier ski-trail and problems of stability of the ropewaystructures. The first borehole (B1) is 162 m long and slightly inclined regarding to the second one and is oriented perpendicular to the rock schistosity. This borehole was instrumented with 5 extensometers (in a depth of 7, 30, 40, 50 and 70 meters) in order to get information about the thermal dilatation of the bedrock. The second borehole (B2) is oriented north-south, is 133 m long (reaching the surface on the south of the Grawand), and was instrumented with two thermistor chains. Measurement data are available since December 2009 and are visible via internet. A first evaluation of the data shows that in the north-exposed slope until a depth of 5 m temperatures fluctuate extremely: until 39°C (-26° to +13°) at the mouth of the borehole, until 12°C (-8°C to +4°C) at a depth of 1,5m and until 2°C (-3°C to -1°C) at a depth of 5m. Furthermore, it can be observed that from December 2009 to June 2010 temperature in the borehole is always below zero degrees. On the north side starting from a depth of 4 m temperature remains always below zero degrees. On the south exposed slope the permanent frozen space is much deeper at the depth of 25 m in the borehole.

The active rockglacier on the Lazaun-Alpe was drilled in the central (2,580 m asl) and in the lower part (2,538 m asl). The upper drilling reached a depth of 40 meters, and from 3 to 24 meters ice (often a mixture of ice and debris) was encountered.

The lower drilling is 32 meters deep, and from 4 to 10 meters and from 16 to 18 meters ice was encountered. The University of Innsbruck is in charge of the analysis of the frozen cores (ice chemistry, dating…) and of the spring water analysis. Both boreholes are going to be instrumented with inclinometer tubes, a coaxial cable and thermistor chains (with automatic datalogger). Logging of data will start in autumn 2010. Another drilling on an active rockglacier in the Ulten valley (Val d’Ultimo) is going to be performed.

The researches on permafrost developed in the Gran Sasso d’Italia Mountain range (Central Apennine) were guaranteed by Massimo Pecci (EIM–Italian Mountain Institute, Rome). In the area surrounding the Calderone glacier, 2 soil temperature data loggers are measuring since 2006  at elevations of about 2400 m and 2600 m a.s.l., with the aim of detecting and monitoring the possible permafrost presence and evolution.  After two years of continuous measures, the confirmation of the presence of permafrost was highlighted by at least two temperature probes, constantly at a temperature below or equal to 0 °C. This interpretation is supported by geomorphological evidences of ridges and festoons, typical of an active rock-glacier.

Finally, in Antarctica (M. Guglielmin, University of Insubriae) there was not any research campaign but it was guaranteed the download of the data from the permafrost boreholes at Rothera and  Signy in Marittime Antarctica in cooperation with the British Antarctic Survey; Marble Point and Wright Valley, in cooperation with Waikato University and Mario Zucchelli Station and Boulder Clay with the PNRA support. A permafrost session (leaded by Mauro Guglielmin) at the XXXI SCAR (Scientific Committee of Antarctic research) was held in Buenos Aires between 3 and 6 August, with 20 posters and 7 oral presentations. A special issue on Geomorphology will be published  with the best papers next year.

Rossana Raffi (Sapienza University of Roma) is the principal Italian investigator of a study of ice wedges in the northern Victoria Land (East Antarctica), funded by the Italian Antarctic National Research Program within the framework of the Project Permafrost and Climate Change in Antarctica (leader M. Guglielmin). This activity is conducted in collaboration with B. Stenni, Trieste University. The research is based on the thermal, isotopic and petrofabric characterization of ice wedges and aims to the definition of formation mechanism, dedicating particular care to associate crack processes and climate condition. 45 ice wedge and 4 sand wedges are under monitoring as regard the main environmental parameters external and internal to the ice wedges (i.e temperature, humidity, solar radiation). High temperature gradients between the ground surface and the top of ice wedge may trigger cracking. Moreover, frequent temperature inversions between the air/ground interface and ice-wedge top allow moisture condensation (with the formation of hoarfrost crystals) and sublimation in the open fracture. A strong divergence of δ18O and δD from the mean precipitation (δ18O and δD values more positive) was detected, along with extremely negative deuterium excess (d) values. Furthermore, a negative correlation between ice-wedge elevation and deuterium excess was observed.

 


Ice wedge at Mount Jackman (72°23’07’’ S; 163°10’49’’ E, 1269 m asl) (Northern Victoria Land , East Antarctica)(Photograph provided by R. Raffi)

In synthesis, the analysis of the thermal regime of ice wedges over six years shows that the thermal conditions at the study sites were able to induce the thermal stress necessary to trigger frost cracking and hence that ice wedges are active under present-day climate conditions. Stable isotope analyses of ice-wedge samples indicate that sublimation processes control the formation of ice in wedges, especially at high elevations within northern Victoria Land.

Adriano Ribolini (ribolini@dst.unipi.it)