The Italian research in the permafrost and periglacial environments was focused on the entire Alpine arch, in the Balkans and in the Antarctic region.

Eastern Alps

Permafrost research focused primarily on the completion of the Rock Glacier Inventory and on the study of permanent ice deposits in high altitude karst caves. The Rock Glacier inventory has been realized using a geomorphological approach in the classification of the landforms (R.R. Colucci, M. Guglielmin).


Concerning permanent ice deposits in the caves, the project MONICA (integrated MONitoring of Ice within the Caves) FRA 2012 grant (Finanziamento di Ateneo per progetti di ricerca scientifica) allowed to implement various activities. In this project the Department of Mathematic and Geoscience of the University of Trieste (E Forte, coordinator, and B. Stenni), the CNR-Department of Earth System Sciences and Environmental Technologies – ISMAR, Trieste (R.R. Colucci,), the University of Milano Bicocca (V Maggi), the University of Insubria (M Guglielmin), the Unione Meteorologica del Friuli Venezia Giulia (UMFVG) and the Parco Naturale Regionale delle Prealpi Giulie (PNRPA) are involved. In the early October a 7.8 m long ice core has been extracted from the Vasto cave. The ice samples has been subsequently brought on valley by helicopter and promptly stored in a refrigerated van, made available by BoFrost. Thus the ice cores has been transported intact to the EUROCOLD laboratory in Milan. The choice of the place where to extract the ice core has been possible thanks to several GPR surveys performed on the surface of the ice deposit. This methodology allowed to visualize and avoid debris and boulder present in the ice deposit, that could have damaged the tip of the ice driller. In this way it was possible to extract the longest core ever extracted in the Italian Alps in an ice cave. The usage of different GPR antennas over the entire surface of the deposit and in the premises of the cave entrance, where a small glacieret is present, will also permit to interpret internal structure, volume and recent development of these firn/ice deposits.
The monitoring of rock, air and ice temperature at different depths in another cave interested by permanent ice deposits is furthermore still going on, while the new Automatic Weather Station of Monte Canin, installed at 2202 m asl in the fall 2012, has been implemented with 7 ground temperature probes (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Surveys and instrument checking in an ice cave of Canin massif, Eastern Alps; photo courtesy Fabrizio Giraldi.


In the Dolomites, the activities focused on a composite landform located in Val San Nicolò, in order to understand the current processes driving its evolution. Here, surface displacement (topographic survey) and ground surface temperature measurements were carried out and a new station for measuring air temperature, snow cover thickness and ground surface temperature was installed (Figure 1). In the Pordoi Pass area (Vauz catchment), several types of investigations continued (ground surface temperature measurements, snowpack measurements), in order to analyze the periglacial slope processes involved in the slow movement of the ground. 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.

Figure 2. The station for measuring air temperature, snow cover thickness and ground surface temperature installed on the Cima Uomo rock glacier (Dolomites, Eastern Italian Alps).


Central Alps


Investigations on permafrost and periglacial environments in Trentino were mainly carried out within the MIUR project (PRIN 2010–2011) “Response of morphoclimatic system dynamics to global changes and related geomorphological hazards”. The project partners active in this region are the University of Padova (G. Dalla Fontana, A. Carton, L. Carturan, T. Zanoner, G. Zuecco and D. Penna) and Pavia (R. Seppi). In addition, several activities were carried out in the framework of an agreement between the Geological Survey of the Autonomous Province of Trento (S. Cocco and M. Zumiani) and the universities of Pavia (R. Seppi) and Padova (A. Carton).
The activities include distributed ground surface temperature measurements in Val de la Mare (Ortles-Cevedale massif), conducted over a wide range of altitudes, at different exposures and on various landforms (active and inactive rock glaciers, scree slopes, glacial deposits). In addition, hydrological investigations started in 2010 in a small permafrost-dominated catchment continued.
The measurements of the annual surface displacement of two active rock glaciers in the Adamello-Presanella massif, in progress since 2001, were repeated also in 2013, along with ground surface temperature measurements which were retrieved for nine consecutive years. On each of these rock glaciers, a new experimental station for measuring the temperature, thickness of the snow cover and ground surface temperature was installed. In addition, the maintenance of the permafrost monitoring stations installed in the Ortles-Cevedale (Cavaion site) and in the Adamello-Presanella (Lobbie Hut site) within the PermaNET project was carried out.
In the area of Mount Ortles the investigations were carried out by the Geological Office of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (V. Mair, D. Tonidandel) and the University of Pavia (R. Seppi), in collaboration with Geomonitoring Service (G. Dragà) and the University of Padova (T. Zanoner). 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 data of the second year of measurements were retrieved, including ground surface temperature measurements, temperature of rock faces at three depths (10, 30 and 55 cm from the surface), and englacial temperature of the Alto dell’Ortles glacier and of a small ice-cap located on the “Hintergrat” ridge of Mount Ortles.
The main activities in South Tyrol have been carried out by the Provincial Office for Geology and Building materials testing (V. Mair, K. Lang, D. Tonidandel), Autonomous Province of Bolzano. All the permafrost monitoring stations, which were installed during the Alpine Space project PermaNET, are operant and are still collecting data. During the 2013 several water analysis were carried out in the permafrost areas. The ongoing Project permaqua, Interreg IV, will carry on its activities also in the 2014.


Western Alps


In the Valle d'Aosta and Piemonte Region, the monitoring and study of permafrost phenomena in the year 2013 have been carried out by the following institutions:

The Regional Agency for Environmental Protection - ARPA VdA (

Fondazione Montagna Sicura - FondMS (

University of Turin – DST (

University of Turin – NATRISK (LNSA and geoSITLab) (

Politecnico di Torino - DIATI (

National Research Center (Torino) - CNR-IRPI (

National Research Center (Torino) - CNR-IGG (


  • ARPA VdA (E. Cremonese, U. Morra di Cella, P. Pogliotti) has maintained and implemented the permafrost monitoring network of Valle d'Aosta. Two new boreholes (20m deep) has been equipped in the Mont Blanc area for studying the interaction between glaciers retreat and permafrost aggradation at the lower limit of alpine permafrost occurrence belt. The new website of the Alpine Permafrost Database has been developed and is online since April 2013 at An international conference focused on the long-term monitoring of climate change effects in mountain areas has been organized in February 2013 (, permafrost has been one of the main topics. The dynamic survey of rock glaciers movement has been started in a testing site crossing high-resolution drone aerial photogrammetry and differential GPS.
  • FondMS (M. Curtaz) - 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, M. Isabellon, M. D'Amico) and ARPA VdA are carrying out (i) the monitoring of low-elevation permafrost in two talus-slope sites in the Lys valley (Monte Rosa Massif) and (ii) the monitoring of interaction between snow-cover and ground surface temperatures in several points of the Cervinia Basin. A project (I-CARE - Impact of Climate change upon water Resources in Alpine area), is focused on the monitoring and modelling the hydrological budget of the Indren glacier and the surrounding permafrost affected area (Monte Rosa). In the South-Eastern sector of the Aosta Valley, pedological investigations are being performed on selected patterned ground areas associated with permafrost with the aims of understanding the effect of lithology on patterned ground morphology and plant ecology in cold high altitude environments.
  • NATRISK-GeoSITLab (M. Giardino, L. Perotti, M. Palomba). The update and digitalization of photo and aerial photo archives of periglacial areas in Piemonte region have been completed for creating a database of glacial lakes distribution (in collaboration with Comitato Glaciologico Italiano and CNR-IRPI Torino). In the framework of the “RiskNat” project, the spatial and temporal landslides frequency (IFFI database) has been investigated in the Aosta Valley Region comparing the permafrost affected areas and the rest of the territory (PhD Palomba).
  • CNR-IRPI Torino (M. Chiarle, G. Mortara, E. Damiano), CNR-IGG Torino (G. Fioraso) and NATRISK-GeoSITLab (S. Bertotto, S. Lucchesi, M. Bacenetti, L. Perotti), assessed at regional and local scale the hazards potentially occurring in glacial and periglacial areas of Piemonte region within the framework of the GLARISKALP project with a focus on the relations with climate change (including permafrost degradation). CNR IRPI (M. Arattano, V. Coviello, M. Chiarle) with the support of Regione Valle d’Aosta records the microseismic activity related to rock mass deformation and movements at Capanna J.A. Carrel, 3830 m a.s.l., Matterhorn. The seismic data are analyzed in relation to climatic factors and permafrost degradation in collaboration with ARPA VdA (P. Pogliotti, U. Morra di Cella).
  • DIATI (A. Godio, D. Franco, L. Sambuelli) 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.




In the framework of a project devoted to the study of Younger Dryas (YD) in Europe and surroundings (B. Rea, University of Aberdeen), several sites have been visited in the Balkans, and particularly in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Here, besides moraines supposed to be YD in age, blocks from fossil rock glaciers have been sampled for exposure age determination (A. Ribolini, M. Bini, G. Zanchetta Univ. of Pisa. I. Isola , INGV, M. Spagnolo, Univ. of Aberdeeen). Moreover, to increase the chronology of cold events, samples of organic material (woods and leaves) collected in bogs dammed by moraines  and speleothems are under processing (G. Zanchetta, I. Isola, E. Regattieri, L. Sadori).  The idea is to compare and contrast not only glaciers ELA but also the discontinuous permafrost limit along a longitudinal transect starting from Iberia and ending in the mountains of Balkans. This may help to understand the penetration of North Atlantic influences associated with variability in the Polar Front during the YD cold period.


R. Raffi and S. Sega took part into the XXVIII expedition, in northern Victoria Lands, Antarctica, during austral summer 2012-2013. The expedition was carried out in  the framework of “Permafrost and Climate Change in Antarctica Research Project”, funded by Italian Antarctic National Research Program (PNRA).
The research was devoted to the study of ice wedges in Victoria Land as evidence of climate change affecting permafrost and active layer. (Figure 3).
The study of ice-wedge thermal regime, started on 2004 and based on data-logger measurements, has been continued through the implementation of existing monitoring network (Figure 2). New thermistors were set up in boreholes at depth of 160 cm, according to standardized protocols for long term permafrost monitoring.
Numerous sections were excavated to define ice-wedge morphological characteristics  and distribution in northern Victoria Land. Moreover, ice-wedge sampling in selected sites was performed to determine the isotopic (δ18O e δD) and petrographic properties of ice wedges (Figure 2).

Figure 3. Location of the study area. The white circle is the location of ice-wedge thermometric stations, yellow circle is the location of investigated sites.


Report prepared by Adriano Ribolini (