The Italian research in the permafrost and periglacial environments was focussed on the entire Alpine arch, the Patagonia coast, the Antarctic and the Svalbard.

Eastern Alps

Arabba Avalanche Center (A. Cagnati, A.Crepaz) continued to monitor the periglacial environment of Piz Boè, in Veneto region, at an altitude of 2900 m a.s.l. AWS, thermistors chain and GST monitoring network (1 Hobo datalogger and 19 iButtons) were logging in the area of Piz Boè. Topographic/theodolite survey was repeated on the rock glacier, to investigate its displacement in the last year. During Summer 2012 water samples were collected (ARPAV and Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes–CNR, Venice-C. Barbante, J. Gabrieli) every week in the shallow lake and in the inlet spring, where a V-shaped weir was applied. The amount of water discharged was determined by continuously measuring the water level by means of an immersed probe. The seasonal snowpack as well as summer liquid precipitations was also sampled and analysed. All the samples has been analysed for pH, conductivity, major ions, trace elements, heavy metals, rare earth elements (REE) and stable isotopes (dD, d18O). Water temperature, level and conductivity dataloggers were also placed in the lake.
In the Dolomites, the activities were focused on a little debris covered glacier that is currently developing under permafrost conditions (Cima Uomo glacier), and, in the area of the Pordoi Pass, on periglacial slope processes and hillslope-scale and catchment-scale hydrological processes. At the first site, topographic and geophysical surveys were carried out with the aim of investigating the dynamics of the debris and the extent and distribution of the residual ice. In addition, GST data collected by mini data-loggers were retrieved for the third consecutive year. In the Pordoi Pass area (Vauz catchment), several types of investigations are in progress (geophysical surveys, GST measurements, snowpack measurements) in order to analyze the processes involved in the slow movement of the ground. Additionally, experimental activities are being carried out in order to understand the fundamental hydrological processes governing the runoff response of hillslopes and catchments at different spatial scale. The activities in the Dolomites are conducted by the universities of Padova (A. Bondesan, M. Borga, A. Carton, G. Dalla Fontana, A. Ninfo, D. Penna, T. Zanoner, G. Zuecco,) and Pavia (R. Seppi), the INOGS Trieste (R. Francese), and with the support of the Geological Survey of the Autonomous Province of Trento.

Central Alps

In Trentino and in the Mount Ortles areas, the activities initiated over the previous years within several projects continued (Alpine Space PermaNET, PRIN2008, Ortles project, IAEA-coordinated project). The surface displacement of two active rock glaciers in the Adamello-Presanella massif is under measurements since 2001, along with GST measurements since 2004. In addition, one of the rock glaciers (Maroccaro) was surveyed for the fourth time using terrestrial laser scanning. These studies were performed by the universities of Pavia (R. Seppi) and Padova (A. Carton), with the support of the Geological Survey of the Autonomous Province of Trento (S. Cocco, M. Degasperi).
In the Ortles-Cevedale massif, several activities are in progress in Val de La Mare. Here, GST data from several monitoring sites distributed over a wide range of altitudes, at different exposures and on various landforms were retrieved for the second year. In the same area, hydrological investigations started in 2010 in a small permafrost-dominated catchment. The investigations aim at understanding the role of permafrost in this kind of catchments and are focused on the stream-flow regime using stable isotopes as tracers. These activities were performed by the universities of Padova (A. Carton, L. Carturan, G. Dalla Fontana, D. Penna, T. Zanoner, G. Zuecco) and Pavia (R. Seppi) and by the IDPA-CNR of Venezia (J. Gabrieli).
The Museum of Science of Trento (M. Gobbi and V. Lencioni) in cooperation with the Universities of Milano (M. Caccianiga and C. Compostella) and Pavia (R. Seppi) continued the investigations on invertebrate and plant communities living on several glacial and periglacial areas of Trentino. Two active rock glaciers and a debris covered glacier located in the Ortles Cevedale and in the Adamello Presanella groups, with a total of about twenty sampling stations, were selected. The activities aim at describing the plant and arthropod colonization pattern and at testing the effect of several environmental variables (e.g. physical, chemical and organic soil parameters) on the biodiversity and the adaptive responses of the species. A total of two bachelor theses and one master thesis were completed, while two new master theses and a PhD thesis are ongoing.
Permafrost investigations are carried out in the area of Mount Ortles (3905 m asl) by the Geological Office of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (V. Mair, D. Tonidandel) and the University of Pavia (R. Seppi), with the collaboration of Waterstone Geomonitoring srl (G. Dragà, G. Piffer, M. Rinaldi) and ARPA Valle d’Aosta (U. Morra di Cella, P. Pogliotti). These activities are part of an international project on the cryosphere of Mount Ortles coordinated by the Ohio State University (P. Gabrielli, L. Thompson) and the Hydrographic Office of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (R. Dinale). The activities include: 1) ground surface temperature measurements; 2) temperature measurements of rock faces at three depths (10, 30 and 55 cm from the surface); 3) englacial temperature measurements of the Alto dell’Ortles glacier and of a small ice-cap located on the “Hintergrat” ridge, in order to analyze the thermal state of the ice and at the interface between the glacier and the bedrock. The data of the first year showed very low temperatures of the ground (Winter Equilibrium Temperature below -5°C) and the rock faces (Mean Annual Temperature below -2°C) and cold ice conditions of the glaciers. In particular, the base of the Alto dell’Ortles glacier is at about -2.9°C and is therefore frozen to the bedrock.
The main activities in South Tyrol were carried out by the Office for Geology and Building materials testing (V. Mair, K. Lang, D. Tonidandel) from the Autonomous Province of Bolzano, which is assuming the role of the lead partner in the Interreg IV Italy-Austria project “permaqua” (2011-2014). The main goals of this project are to maintain and expand the existing monitoring network and to study the chemical and biological properties of high mountain waters influenced by permafrost. The key activity during the 2012 was the execution of two drill holes through the debris covered glacier of Murfreit on the north side of the Sella massif at 2.700 m above sea level, near the pass Passo Gardena. In the first bore hole (it has a total depth of 45 m) were drilled about 45 m pure ice. In the second bore hole (it has a total depth of 20 m) the ice quantity was much lower. Both drill holes were equipped with inclinometer tube, TDR cable and thermistor chains.

Figure 1. Overview of the debris covered glacier of Murfreit, on the north side of Sella massif.

The other activities during the 2012 were in summary: i) data acquisition, maintenance and implementation of the regional monitoring network: 1) three boreholes trough the active rock glaciers Lazaun (Schnalstal) and Rossbänk (Ultental) equipped with thermistor chains and TDR cable, 2) two borehole in ice (Oberer Ortler Ferner and Hintergrat Ferner) equipped with thermistor chain, 3) two boreholes in rock (Grawand, Schnalstal) equipped with thermistor chain and extensometer); ii) data acquisition of six thermistor chains on different rock faces in the Ortler massif;  iii) surface-movement measurements of the Lazaun rock glacier using D-GPS.
In the Foscagno area (near Bormio), thanks to GST, BTS, snow thickness, vegetation coverage and phenology monitoring, climate change impacts on permafrost-vegetation are monitored since 2007 by N. Cannone, M. Dalle Fratte and M. Guglielmin (University of Varese-Insubria). In the same area permafrost temperature down to 20 m is still monitored. Close to Stelvio Pass the deeper mountain permafrost borehole in Europe (235 m) established within the project Share Stelvio in 2009 is still monitored. The Stelvio National Park and Insubria University (N. Cannone, M. Guglielmin) are preparing (will be ready next summer) a scientific thematic track on the impacts of the climate change on permafrost and vegetation in cold high mountain.

Western Alps

In the Valle d'Aosta Region, the monitoring and study of permafrost phenomena in the year 2012 have been carried out by the following institutions: The Regional Agency for Environmental Protection - ARPA VdA (, Fondazione Montagna Sicura - FondMS (, University of Turin – NATRISK (LNSA and geoSITLab) (, Politecnico di Torino - DIATI (, National Research Center (Torino) - CNR-IRPI (

In 2012 is started the organization of an international conference focused on the long-term monitoring of climate change effects in mountain areas ( The event is scheduled for February 20th and 21th 2013, in Valle d'Aosta. Permafrost is one of the main topics.

Within the frameworks of the RiskNat project (ALCOTRA program) a technical handbook about permafrost related hazards (regional analysis and case studies) and other project products has been published online (

ARPA VdA (E. Cremonese, U. Morra di Cella, P. Pogliotti) maintained and implemented the regional permafrost monitoring network. One borehole 10 meter deep has been instrumented on the south face of Matterhorn (Carrel Hut, 3830 m.a.s.l.). One minilogger for the monitoring of ground surface temperature has been placed on the north face of Grandes Jorasses, 4000 m a.s.l.

A comparison of permafrost distribution maps obtained with differing approaches has been carried out in the Cervinia Basin in collaboration with the engineering society Mountain-eering s.r.l. (M. Dall'Amico). The GEOtop model ( has been used for simulating the long-term thermal response of differing ground materials (bedrock, debris, soil). A new monitoring site to study the interactions between glaciers retreat and permafrost aggradation has been identified and first two boreholes drilled. The site will be implemented during the next years. ARPA VdA is developing the new website of the Alpine Permafrost Database. The site will be online at the beginning of 2013 (

FondMS (M. Curtaz) has performed stability analysis of the Pellaud Basin (Rhêmes Valley) in collaboration with University of Parma (M. Ferrero). In the framework of the Regional monitoring plan for glacial risks, some periglacial hazardous sites were considered: data collection (photos, ortophotos, previews studies) and analysis (comparison with Alpine Permafrost Index Map and PSInSAR data, photo analysis) were done.

NATRISK-LNSA (M. Freppaz, G. Filippa) and ARPA VdA are carrying out the monitoring of low-elevation permafrost in two talus-slope sites in the Lys valley (Monte Rosa Massif). A project focused on the interaction between snow-cover and ground surface temperatures in different points of the Cervinia Basin is ongoing. The research unit is also involved in the project I-CARE (Impact of Climate change upon water Resources in Alpine area), funded by Politecnico di Milano under the scheme of the “5%0 Award”, and coordinated by D. Bocchiola. Most notably, the activity is focused on the monitoring and modelling the hydrological budget of the Indren glacier area (Monte Rosa), including the surrounding permafrost affected area.

NATRISK-geoSITLab (M. Giardino, L. Perotti, M. Palomba, S. Lucchesi) is implementing a statistic/cartographic approach to slope instabilities in the periglacial environment. Multi-dimensional (spatial, temporal) analysis of slope instabilities (historical data/maps, photointerpretation, geomatics techniques) have been performed in the Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso areas, under the EU-Canada “geoNatHaz” partnership ( Regional trends of enhanced instabilities within permafrost affected areas have been outlined based on inventory data of the Valle d'Aosta.

DIATI (A. Godio) is working, jointly with FondMS, ARPA VdA and GeoDigitalSolutions (spin-off of Parma University), to evaluate the reliability of geophysical methods (seismic and georadar) and laboratory analysis to detect the mechanical properties of the active layer of moraines materials in different seasons, that is under differing thawing and freezing conditions. The field activity is focused on two test sites in Val di Rhemes and Val d’Ayas. The laboratory analysis pointed out a great variability of the P-wave and S-wave velocity values of finer material in frozen condition in the temperature range between -5 and -15 °C.

CNR-IRPI Torino (M.Arattano, V.Coviello, M.Chiarle, G.Mortara), in the framework of the MASSA Project, has continued the activity of recording and analysis of acoustic emissions related to rock mass deformation at Capanna Carrel (3830 m a.s.l., Matterhorn, I), in relation to climatic factors and permafrost degradation, in cooperation with Politecnico di Torino (C.Scavia, C.Occhiena, M.Pirulli), and Arpa VDA. The activity is funded by Regione Valle d’Aosta.

Arpa Piemonte (Dept. “Geology and Natural Hazards”, contact person L. Paro), with the contribution of University of Varese-Insubria (M. Guglielmin), has continued the activities developed during the European project “PermaNet” finished in September 2011. A maintenance of the permafrost monitoring stations in Piedmont Alps has been carried out, along with the recovering of all monitoring sites damaged by water infiltration (details at:

With the aim of permafrost existence evaluation (empirical and physical models validation), BTS surveys in different sites of the Piedmont Alps have been carried out. A geophysical prospection (electrical tomography) was performed in the key site of the Piedmont permafrost monitoring network “Sommeiller Pass” in order to analyze a potential CALM Grid site. A manual measurement of temperature and conductibility of water springs in some high mountain sites is ongoing in order to verify the potential relationship with permafrost and slope instabilities. A strong activity was carried out in the field of modeling. A physical model was implemented with the aim to evaluate the potential distribution of permafrost in Piedmont Alps applying PERMACLIM. Moreover, a new PERMACLIM plug-in for openGIS application is under construction and test. A “Cryotic vulnerability” model was developed and applied to whole Piedmont Alps. This model is based on the comparison between empirical and physical models. Finally, attention has been paid to the analysis of the interrelation between permafrost data, cryotic processes and slope instability in some specific sites (Sampeyre complex landslide and M. Rocciamelone rockslide).

The University of Pisa (A. Ribolini) continued the researches in the Maritime Alps, monitoring the surface ground temperature of a rock glacier, performing GPR and ERT prospections, and sampling boulder form rock glaciers in order to date the age of stabilization by means of the cosmogenic radionuclides methods. This last activity has been carried out within a project financed to the University of Aberdeen (M. Spagnolo, A. Ribolini) by SUERC (Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre).

In the Valle d'Aosta Region, the monitoring and study of permafrost phenomena in the year 2012 have been carried out by the following institutions: The Regional Agency for Environmental Protection - ARPA VdA (, Fondazione Montagna Sicura - FondMS (, University of Turin – NATRISK (LNSA and geoSITLab) (, Politecnico di Torino - DIATI (, National Research Center (Torino) - CNR-IRPI (


The study of the sand wedge features along the coast of Argentinean Partagonian is still ongoing and, besides OSL ages, also new radiocarbon dates of carbonate crusts confirmed their formation during the Late Pleistocene. The SEM analysis of surface microtexture of quartz grains of the wedge infillings indicated a depositional environment dominated by aeolian transport. Moreover, the presence in the infillings of volcanic glass-shards generated by Andean explosive eruptions suggested a west component in the paleo-wind direction. The permafrost extension during the Late Pleistocene has been reconsidered including also the coastal areas of central Patagonia (A. Ribolini, University of Pisa).


The Project Permafrost and Climate Change in Antarctica (leaded by M. Guglielmin) is still ongoing through the permafrost monitoring at the Dry Valley and Marble point sites (in cooperation with Waikato University), at Rothera and Signy island (with the cooperation of British Antarctic Survey). In the latter during this campaign will be realized (by Insubria University, F. Baio and L. Paro of Arpa Piemonte) a new borehole of 30 m instrumented for permafrost monitoring upgrading the CALM Grid and the Snow monitoring program already existent. At Mario Zucchelli station M. Guglielmin and Michele Dalle Fratte (Insubria University) have continued the monitoring program of the active layer and permafrost at Oasi and Boulder Clay and in other 4 sites along a latitudinal gradient of 3° of latitude where also the vegetation (mosses and lichens) are monitored too. In this campaign also the study of the weathering processes (tafoni, weathering pits etc) has been developed. Finally a program of CO2 monitoring on different vegetation and active layer conditions is going on.Most of the results of the last 2 years of cooperation with the British Antarctic survey are contained in a special issue of Geomorphology, 2012, 155-156.
In Northern Victoria Lands, Antarctica, R. Raffi and S. Sega (University of Rome) participate to the XXVIII expedition (austral summer 2012-2013) within the framework of Italian Antarctic National Research Program (PNRA). The field activity is carried on Permafrost and Climate Change in Antarctica Research Program. Monitoring of ice-wedge thermal regime, started on 2004, continues at Backer Rocks, Boomerang Glacier and Mount Jackman (Northern Victoria Land) installing new thermistors in boreholes at 160 cm depth, according to standardized protocols for long term permafrost monitoring.

Svalbard (Norway)

M. Guglielmin (University of Varese-Insubria) installed a CALM grid at Ny Alesmund. In the same site, C02 emission measurements and geophysical prospections for the determination of active layer thickness have been performed.