The Austrian permafrost research community was rather active in 2014 regarding national research, international research and permafrost-related sessions at earth science conferences held in Austria. As in the previous years, the first part of this report deals with general permafrost activities and events which happened this year. The second part of the report summaries the permafrost and periglacial research activities carried out by the different research groups.
Part 1: General permafrost activities in Austria
As during the last years, the annual EGU General Assembly (www.egu2014.eu) took place in Vienna between 27 April and 3 May 2015 with about 12,500 attendees. Several sessions were dedicated to permafrost topics. Apart from this large international conference, two further conferences held in Austria are worth to mention.
The PANGEO 2014 Conference was held in Graz at the Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Graz between the 14 and 19 of September. In total some 250 attendees participated in this primarily national conference. The program was divided into 23 sessions; one of it was dedicated to mountain permafrost and periglacial processes. The session was convened by A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer and G.K. Lieb (both Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz) and consisted of six oral presentations and three poster presentations. Some 50 colleagues attended this session. One week later, the DEUQUA 2014 Conference took place in Innsbruck (24 to 29 September) and was organised by members of the Institute of Geology, the Institute of Geography and the Institute of Ecology of the University of Innsbruck. A session on mountain permafrost (convener K. Krainer, Institute of Geology, University of Innsbruck) was held on 26 September with W. Haeberli as the keynote speaker and four further oral presentations.
As reported in the previous report, a first Austrian CGOS (Global Climate Observing System) report was finalised in December 2013. This report was slightly modified in early 2014. The report is written in German and consists of 23 chapters related to different atmospheric and terrestrial Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). One chapter is devoted to permafrost. The updated version is available at https://www.zamg.ac.at/cms/de/topmenu/ueber-uns/internationales/gcos/gcos-bericht.
A new nationwide project entitled permAT - Long-term monitoring of permafrost and periglacial processes and its role for natural hazard prevention: Possible strategies for Austria was was started in autumn this year (Fig. 1). The main goal of permAT is to define possible strategies, which allow the establishment of a long-term funded, maintained and efficiently working permafrost and periglacial monitoring network in Austria thereby considering also national hazard aspects. The project intends to join and adjust interests of researcher, stakeholder and policy maker. permAT is funded by the StartClim climate research program, runs until mid-2015 and is led by A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer and A. Bartsch (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics/ZAMG). StartClim is a national research program which particularly deals with adaption to climate change issues and which should help to launch larger follow-up projects.
Figure 1. The logo of the new nationwide project "permAT - Long-term monitoring of permafrost and periglacial processes and its role for natural hazard prevention: Possible strategies for Austria". This project intends to make a further step towards a long-term financially secured permafrost and periglacial monitoring program in Austria.
On 17 September 2014 the first Austrian Assessment Report 2014 (AAR14) was published by the Austrian Panel on Climate Change (APCC). The AAR14 is based on the IPCC structure. The report consists of three volumes that present (a) the existing knowledge on climate change and affects in Austria, and (b) on the needs and possibilities for mitigation and adaptation. The 1096 pages of the report aim to present the scientific knowledge pertaining to Austria in a coherent and complete manner. Similar to IPCC reports, the AAR14 is based on the principle of being policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive. In a joint, three-year effort some 240 Austrian scientists worked on this report. Relevant for the permafrost community is the fact that the AAR14 implies also permafrost relevant issues related to the hydrosphere and the geosphere. The report can be accessed via http://hw.oeaw.ac.at/7699-2.
Finally, we report that C. Riedl (ZAMG) was the National GTN-P Correspondent in 2014 and participated at the GTN-P meeting at EUCOP4, Évora, Portugal, in June. Furthermore, A. Bartsch participated in the 24th IPA Council Meeting at the EUCOP4 representing Austria.
Part 2: Reports from the different Austrian permafrost research groups
The national permafrost project permAfrost – Austrian Permafrost Research Initiative was ended in 2013. The final report consists of four main parts, was published in 2014, and is available online via http://epub.oeaw.ac.at/?arp=0x002f9d0b.
Research activities at permafrost-affected rock faces within the MOREXPERT project (M. Keuschnig, I. Hartmeyer) – carried out in cooperation with alpS (Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Technologies, Innsbruck) – have been continued at the Kitzsteinhorn summit area (3.203 m). Four boreholes (20-30 m deep) continued to deliver temperatures from deeper depths. A fifth borehole (30m deep) is planned go into operation in 2015. A total number of 32 shallow boreholes (0.1-0.8 m deep) spread across the summit pyramid of the Kitzsteinhorn provide near-surface rock temperatures. Two permanently installed ERT arrays (one is operated by the Geological Survey of Austria, contact R. Supper; see also previous reports) supply continuous information on near-surface ground thermal conditions in steep terrain. In 2014 particular attention has been devoted to (a) the LiDAR-based identification of permafrost-related rockfall events and (b) the assessment of continuous, automated ERT measurements in unstable, permafrost-affected rock faces. In 2015 monitoring efforts at the Kitzsteinhorn will be expanded by the installation of a seismic rockfall monitoring system. Furthermore crackmeters will be installed to survey permafrost-related crack movements.
The ZAMG Salzburg (C. Riedl) and ZAMG Vienna (H. Hausmann, W. Schöner) continued their research around the Sonnblick Observatory at Hoher Sonnblick (3106 m a.s.l.). Installation of new temperature sensors in borehole 3 (the borehole next to Goldbergkees at the Sonnblick summit) have been accomplished in August 2014 (carried out within a ZAMG internal structure-project). In 2015 borehole 1 (next to Zittelhaus) will be instrumented with new temperature sensors and a three component seismometer. These activities will get carried out within the new project SeisRockHT. Recent borehole data are available at http://www.sonnblick.net/portal/content/view/167/302/lang,de/.
Within the project PERSON (Permafrost Monitoring Sonnblick) six further shallow boreholes with depths between 40 and 80cm were installed. Two boreholes were established on the southern flank of Hoher Sonnblick and the remaining four within the nearby investigation area Wintergasse. Each borehole is equipped with four temperature sensors with a sensor spacing between 10 and 20cm. The boreholes are backfilled with a mixture of rock flour and polyester casting resin to provide the measurements from atmospheric influence as well as from fissure water. Additionally, 42 ground surface temperature logger were read out and redeployed. Furthermore, in the last week of February BTS measurements were carried out at 69 locations of the two investigation areas.
SeisRockHT will install two passive seismic networks of different scales to monitor rock fall activity. The large scale network will focus on the north face of Hoher Sonnblick and the small scale network will be established at the permafrost dominated Kitzsteinhorn summit region (see MOREXPERT above). Regular terrestrial laser scanning and automated cameras will deliver validation data for rock fall events. The project will start by 2015.
Graz and Leoben
The different groups of permafrost researcher in Graz and Leoben continued their research activities in the Hohe Tauern Range, Niedere Tauern Range and in the Northern Calcareous Alps. Researcher from three different institutes – Department of Geography and Regional Science, Institute of Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry, and Institute of Earth Sciences – at the two Universities in Graz (A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer, G.K. Lieb, O. Sass, M. Rode, G. Winkler, M. Pauritsch, H. Schnepfleitner, M. Avian, V. Kaufmann, T. Wagner, C. Gitschthaler, S. Hergarten), as well as Joanneum Research in Leoben (R. Morawetz, M. Schreilechner) carried out relevant research. The main present projects are Permafrost Monitoring Tauern Range, Water Resources of Relict Rock Glaciers, ROCKING ALPS, and permAT (see above for the latter).
The project Permafrost Monitoring Tauern Range (A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer, M. Avian, V. Kaufmann) is a minor-funded project intending to maintain the previously installed permafrost and periglacial monitoring network in the Hohe and Niedere Tauern Range. Multidisciplinary monitoring at three active rock glacier sites (Weissenkar, Hinteres Langtalkar), one active rock fall site (Mittlerer and Hoher Burgstall, near Pasterze Glacier), and three marginally permafrost sites (Hochtor, Fallbichl, Hochreichart area) has been successfully continued. Numerous ERT measurements have been carried out in two marginally permafrost affected areas namely the Kögele Cirque, Schober Mountains, and at several places around Mt. Hochreichart (2416 m a.s.l.), Niedere Tauern Range. The annual differential GNSS measurements at Leibnitzkopf Rock Glacier were successfully repeated in 2014. These activities were financed by the Hohe Tauern National Park Authority.
Research within the project Water Resources of Relict Rock Glaciers (in the Styrian part of the Niedere Tauern Range) was continued by G. Winkler, M. Avian, S. Hergarten, A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer, M. Pauritsch and T. Wagner. At regional scale, based on a parsimonious lumped-parameter rainfall-runoff model, twelve selected catchments and subcatchments were investigated to quantify the impact of rock glacier (or debris) sediments on the hydrology of alpine catchments. At local scale the hydraulic behavior of the aquifer of the Schöneben Rock Glacier was simulated numerically and subsequently compared with the analytic findings of hydrograph and tracer analyses at the Schöneben spring. R. Morawetz and M. Schreilechner completed their geophysical investigations at the Schöneben Rock Glacier.
The two projects ROCKING ALPS and INFRAROCK were successfully continued in 2014 (O. Sass, M. Rode, H. Schnepfleitner, C. Gitschthaler). The study area of both projects is located in the Dachstein Massif, Northern Calcareous Alps, reaching a maximum elevation of 2995 m a.s.l. The main summit of interest is named Koppenkarstein (2863 m a.s.l.), with additional activities at the mountains Dirndln (2829 m a.s.l.) and Gjaidstein (2794 m asl). For details see earlier reports. Since the winter of 2013/14 some 50 shallow boreholes were drilled around the Koppenkarstein with temperature sensors at depths of 10, 30, 50, and 100 cm. To determine the spatial distribution of the surface rock temperature, infrared images during summer 2014 were made. Furthermore, a deeper near-horizontal borehole was drilled on 13 August 2014 at the northern footslope of the Koppenkarstein (Fig. 2). A depth of 7 m was reached and temperature sensors have been installed subsequently at 10, 50, 100, 300, 500, and 700 cm depths. First results show obvious signs of permafrost. Therefore, the Dachstein area is now the third permafrost monitoring site in Austria with a borehole (following Hoher Sonnblick and Kitzsteinhorn) which reaches permafrost and is hence relevant for the GTN-P program.
Figure 2. A new permafrost borehole in bedrock in the Dachstein massif (2995 m a.s.l.), Northern Calcareous Alps drilled on the 13 August 2014 at a north-facing rockwall site at the mountain Koppenkarstein. The 7 m deep borehole is the third permafrost borehole site in Austria (after Sonnblick and Kitzsteinhorn). Preliminary results clearly indicate permafrost conditions. Photographs provided by Harald Schnepfleitner.
Activities of the Innsbruck permafrost group around K. Krainer (K. Krainer, U. Nickus, H. Thies) in 2014 were concentrated on the hydrogeology of mountain permafrost related to climate change (Project PERMAQUA; see for details earlier reports), including monitoring of discharge of active rock glaciers (gaging stations), water temperature and electrical conductivity of rock glacier springs and water chemistry of water released from active rock glaciers (anions, cations, heavy metals).
Research activities at the Institute of Geography (around J. Stötter) at the University of Innsbruck mainly focus on the detection and quantification of permafrost degradation in the Western Austrian and Northern Italian Alps using ALS/TLS as well as photogrammetric analysis. In the SE.MAP project (C. Klug, L. Rieg, R. Sailer, J. Stötter) the detection of high mountain geomorphic processes including rock glacier activities based on ALS and optical tri-stereo satellite data is assessed.
Researchers at the Institute of Ecology of the University of Innsbruck (K. Koinig, B. Ilyashuk, E. Ilyashuk.,G. Köck, R. Lackner, R. Psenner) continued monitoring water chemistry of lakes with melt water impact form rock glaciers and compared them to lakes without rock glacier influence. The very warm summer of 2013 still affected the solute content measured in 2014. Distinct bioaccumulation of metals originating from permafrost meltwater has been observed in various aquatic organisms as described in detail in an article by B. Ilyahuk et al. One additional sediment core was obtained from a lake with permafrost influence within a recently started project by B. Ilyashuk with analyses currently on their way.
The time series of the measurements of flow velocities of the Äußeres Hochebenkar Rock Glacier in the Ötztal Alps have been prolongated with a survey on 20 September 2014 (Fig. 3). The campaign was carried out by the Verein Gletscher und Klima in cooperation with the Institute of Interdisciplinary Mountain Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (A. Fischer, L. Hartl). After the speed up in the last years, the ongoing evaluation of the results will show if the velocity is still increasing. Nearby glacier mass balance time series showed less negative and partly even positive results despite of summer temperatures above the long term average caused by high snow accumulation and late snow melt.
Figure 3. Velocity measurements at the Äußeres Hochebenkar Rock Glacier at the 20.09.2014. Photograph provided by Andrea Fischer.
Current research activities by the Geological Survey of Austria, Department of Geophysics (D. Ottowitz, B. Jochum, R. Supper, S. Pfeiler, J-H. Kim) at Kitzsteinhorn and the ZAMG group in Vienna (W. Schöner, H. Hausmann) on Mt. Sonnblick were mentioned above. Noteworthy is the fact that W. Schöner has been appointed professor at the Department of Geography and Regional Science at the University of Graz in September 2014.
The land surface remote sensing research group of the Austrian Polar Research Institute lead by A. Bartsch (including members of Vienna University of Technology: B. Widhalm, E. Högström and Scott Polar Research Institute: A.M. Trofaier) has continued the maintenance of instrumentation for moisture and temperature monitoring in the Lena-Delta within the framework of PAGE21 in cooperation with AWI and ETH Zürich (supported by INTERACT). A. Bartsch has been coordinating the community white paper on Earth Observation data requirements of the permafrost community in response to a request by the WMO-Polar Space Task Group. She also co-organized the ESA CliC GNT-P/IPA Permafrost Remote Sensing workshop in Frascati, February 2014. Permafrost monitoring on the Yamal peninsula (bi-lateral Austrian-Russian project COLD Yamal) has been continued.
Report prepared by Dr. Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer, Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz (email@example.com)