The year 2015 was another busy year for the Austrian permafrost community with national and international meetings and project activities. Similar to our national reports of the previous years, this report consists of two parts. The first part reports about general permafrost activities and events which happened this year in the country. The second part discusses permafrost and periglacial research activities carried out by the different research groups in Austria.

Part 1: General permafrost activities in Austria

The General Assembly 2015 of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) took place in Vienna during the period 12 to 17 April 2015. Almost 12.000 scientists from more than one hundred countries participated in this event ( Permafrost-related research was presented and discussed in 22 different sessions.

Within the framework of 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 a workshop was held in Graz on 26-27 February 2015. The aim of this workshop was to discuss 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 (Fig. 1). The workshop was visited by some 40 colleagues from Austria and a neighbouring country (consisting of researcher, stakeholder and policy maker) and was supported by the Climate Change Centre Austria (CCCA). The project, which was jointly led by A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer (University of Graz) and A. Bartsch (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics/ZAMG) ended in 2015. The final report was written as a community white paper documenting the possible strategy of future permafrost monitoring in Austria. This paper was released in December 2015 (in German) and will be communicated to international colleagues in the near future. The compilation of this report was supported by more than 20 researcher in Austria. For more details on the project permAT see the national report of 2014.

A first official meeting of permafrost scientists from Austria and South Tyrol was held in 2010 in Obergurgl, Tyrol, Austria (see national report of 2010). Five years later, the Second Austrian Permafrost Workshop was successfully conducted in the federal province of Styria in the period 14-16 October 2015 with some 20 participants (Fig. 2). The workshop consisted of a presentation-and-discussion part (held in the Trautenfels Castle) and an excursion part (leading to the Hochreichart area, Seckauer Tauern Range). The excursion focused on present and past permafrost distribution and hydrogeological issues related to paleo-permafrost landforms. The workshop was jointly organized by the Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz (represented by A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer), the Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Graz (G. Winkler), and the Universalmuseum Joanneum, Trautenfels and Graz (K. Krenn, I. Fritz).

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Figure 1. The organising committee of the permAT-permafrost workshop held in Graz on 26-27 February 2015 consisting of (from left to right) Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer, Christoph Gitschthaler (both University of Graz), Annett Bartsch (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics), Stefan Ropac and Matthias Themessl (both Climate Change Centre Austria(CCCA). Photograph provided by Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer.

austria fig2Figure 2. Participants of the second Austrian Permafrost Workshop, held on 14-16 October 2015 at the Trautenfels Castle, Styria, Austria. The participants also visited a permafrost monitoring site in the Seckauer Tauern Range, (Hochreichart area) where permafrost and hydrogeological research related to paleo-permafrost landforms are carried out since more than a decade. Photograph provided by Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer.

The Austrian Polar Research Institute has initiated and co-organized (jointly with the Committee on Polar Research, Poland, and the Centre for Polar Ecology, Czech Republic) the First Central European Polar Meeting which successfully took place between the 10 and 13 November 2015 at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, Austria. W. Schöner (University of Graz) and A. Bartsch (ZAMG) were intensively involved in this meeting. The presentations included a range of permafrost related research. The abstracts can be found under the following link (

Finally, we report that I. Hartmeyer participated in the Second National Correspondents Workshop on GTN-P which took place on 19-20 September 2015 in Québec, Canada. Regarding GTN-P, the permafrost borehole Koppenkarstein North Face, Dachstein Massif, Austria was officially included in the GTN-P database. The drilling of the borehole was already accomplished in 2014 (see report of previous year). The monitoring data retrieved so far from the datalogger confirm permafrost existence at this site. Therefore, Austria now contributes with nine permafrost boreholes from three different monitoring sites (Hoher Sonnblick, Kitzsteinhorn and Dachstein) to the GTN-P network.

Part 2: Reports from the different Austrian permafrost research groups

The national permafrost project permAT (see above) was concluded in 2015 and the final report was released in December 2015. The final report is written in German and online accessible at An English abstract of the final report is accessible at


Research activities at the study site Kitzsteinhorn (3.203 m), Hohe Tauern Range, have been continued and intensified in 2015 within the MOREXPERT project (I. Hartmeyer, M. Keuschnig, J.-C. Otto). MOREXPERT is carried out by the University of Salzburg in cooperation with alpS (Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Technologies, Innsbruck) and investigates the long-term interaction of permafrost and rockfall in frozen rock walls (see also earlier reports). Monitoring activities in 2015 included (a) temperature measurements in deep (up to 30 m in depth) and shallow boreholes (up to 0.8 m in depth) that cover different aspects and elevations of the Kitzsteinhorn summit pyramid, (b) electrical resistivity measurements in unstable permafrost-affected bedrock, and (c) terrestrial laserscanning (TLS) surveys to identify rockfall release zones. In 2015 this combination of surface and subsurface measurements was expanded by seismic measurements. Within the SeisRockHT project, which is led by ZAMG (see below), geophones have been installed in three of the five boreholes at the Kitzsteinhorn in order to register acoustic emissions of rockfalls (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Instrumentation of a borehole with temperature sensors and geophones in the summit area of the Kitzsteinhorn (3203 m a.s.l.) within the MOREEXPERT project. Photograph provided by Markus Keuschnig.

The ZAMG Vienna (A. Bartsch, S. Reisenhofer) and ZAMG Salzburg (C. Riedl) intensified their research activities at Hoher Sonnblick (3106 m a.s.l.) in 2015. Since the beginning of the year 2015 the Sonnblick Observatory at Hoher Sonnblick is one of the 17 worldwide integrated CryoNet sites of the Global Cryosphere Watch (GCW) program, which is a young initiative of the WMO. The permafrost monitoring is a fundamental part of the instrumentation and thus also contributes to GCW. The permafrost related research activities in 2015 included rock fall activity monitoring (project SeisRockHT), a new permanently installed ERT (project PERSON-GCW and ATMOperm) and installation of further shallow boreholes (project PERSON-GCW). The two projects SeisRockHT and ATMOperm were launched in 2015 and are funded by the Austrian Academy of Science.

Within the project PERSON-GCW, funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the spatial distribution of permafrost is investigated by ZAMG (S. Reisenhofer) in the Hoher Sonnblick area. The aim of PERSON-GCW is to identify parameters affecting permafrost – geological, geomorphological, orographical and climatic factors – to determine its spatial-temporal behaviour under present day climate conditions and to estimate its possible future extension under a climate change scenario.
In cooperation with the Geological Survey of Austria (GBA; R. Supper, S. Pfeiler) the previously mentioned permanently installed electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) array was established in July 2015 in the upper summit area of Hoher Sonnblick (Fig. 4). To determine near-surface temperature conditions along the ERT profile two shallow boreholes were additionally installed with temperature sensor at depths of 80, 60, 40, 20 cm and at the surface. The ground surface temperature monitoring was continued and measurements of the bottom temperature of the winter snow cover (BTS) were accomplished in mid-March 2015.

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Figure 4. Installation of an ERT array in the summit area of Hoher Sonnblick (3106 m asl.) on 14 July 2015. The Sonnblick Observatory and the summit hut Zittelhaus are visible in the background. Photograph provided by Stefan Reisenhofer.

ATMOperm is carried out by researchers from four different institutes: Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation, Uni. Vienna (A. Flores-Orozco), GBA (R. Supper, S. Pfeiler), Department of Geography and Regional Science, Uni. Graz (W. Schöner, G. Heinrich) and ZAMG (S. Reisenhofer). Within ATMOperm an intensive field week was held in the first week of August. The main emphasis lay on geophysical measurements such as active seismic and electromagnetic with planned replicate measurements in the following year.


Permafrost researcher in Graz continued their activities in the Hohe Tauern Range, Niedere Tauern Range and in the Northern Calcareous Alps. In 2015, scientists from three different institutes – the Department of Geography and Regional Science and the Institute of Earth Sciences (both University of Graz) as well as the Institute of Geodesy of the Graz, Graz University of Technology (A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer, G.K. Lieb, O. Sass, M. Rode, G. Winkler, M. Pauritsch, H. Schnepfleitner, M. Avian, V. Kaufmann, T. Wagner, C. Gitschthaler, W. Schöner, G. Heinrich) carried out permafrost/periglacial research. The main projects were, as in the previous year, Permafrost Monitoring Tauern Range, Water Resources of Relict Rock Glaciers, ROCKING ALPS, and permAT (see above for the latter). Additionally, the project ATMOperm was launched in 2015 (see above)
The project Permafrost Monitoring Tauern Range (A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer, M. Avian, V. Kaufmann, G.K. Lieb) continued and maintained the successfully operating permafrost and periglacial monitoring network in the Hohe and Niedere Tauern Range, Central Austria. Multidisciplinary monitoring at three active rock glacier sites (Dösen, Hinteres Langtalkar, Leibnitzkopf), one active rock fall site (Mittlerer and Hoher Burgstall, near Pasterze Glacier), and three marginally permafrost sites (Hochtor, Fallbichl, Hochreichart area) has been continued. ERT measurements have been carried out at several places in the Schober Mountains to study the glacier-permafrost relationship. Additionally, ERT measurements and relative surface dating of periglacial landforms were accomplished in the Hochreichart area, Niedere Tauern Range.
At Tschadinhorn rock glacier (Schober group, Hohe Tauern) the geodetic observation network installed last year by the Institute of Geodesy of the Graz University of Technology (V. Kaufmann) was re-visited and re-measured for the first time. Flow velocities between 2.6 and 4.5 m/year were observed. This year’s flow velocities measured on all studied rock glaciers in the Hohe Tauern Range are the highest ones measured ever since. These activities were financed by the Hohe Tauern National Park Authority. For the moment, measurements at Weissenkar Rock Glacier have been discontinued. In summer 2015 a terrestrial photogrammetric survey of Äußeres Hochebenkar Rock Glacier, Northern Tyrol, was carried out additionally.
Research within the project Water Resources of Relict Rock Glaciers in the Styrian part of the Niedere Tauern Range) (led by G. Winkler) was finished at the end of 2014. Detailed findings of this project are going to be published in different journals and a book. For instance, a conceptual hydrogeological model of a relict rock glacier (Schöneben Rock Glacier) has been developed. In addition, related to sloping aquifers in alpine catchments various analytic methods were explored to infer hydraulic properties of such aquifers. Furthermore, the hydrological impact of relict rock glaciers on downstream rivers at a more regional scale was quantified.
The two projects ROCKING ALPS and INFRAROCK were successfully continued in 2015 (O. Sass, M. Rode, H. Schnepfleitner, C. Gitschthaler) in the Dachstein Massif, Northern Calcareous Alps. For details see earlier reports. Additional ERT measurements were carried out at several locations. Two ERT-measurements at the north-exposed rock wall of the Koppenkarstein confirmed the measurements of earlier years regarding permafrost at the subsurface. Furthermore, a new ERT profile was installed at a NE exposed rock wall at the glacier forefield of the Schladminger Glacier to study also the relationship of glacier retreat and permafrost distribution. In 2015, some 40 shallow boreholes (10-100 cm) equipped with miniature temperature datalogger monitored successfully ground temperature data. The deep borehole (7m) at Koppenkarstein, which was drilled and instrumented in 2014, delivered valuable ground temperature data during the winter and spring season 2014/2015. This borehole is now integrated in the GTN-P network (see above).
As reported above, the project ATMOperm was launched this year. The Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz (W. Schöner, G. Heinrich) is one of the four collaborating institutes. The four institutes are closely working together to set up a combined measurement and modeling approach as the basis for a long-term monitoring strategy at the summit of Hoher Sonnblick. The results of the geophysical measurements (see above) will form the evaluation basis for modeling and analyzing atmospheric energy fluxes over permafrost ground and their impact on the thermal state of permafrost and active layer thickness.


The Interreg IV project PERMAQUA (Permafrost and its impacts on water resources and water ecology in high mountain areas) had finished in July 2015 (see earlier reports). The University of Innsbruck-group (U. Nickus, H. Thies, K.Krainer, M. Hirnsperger) focuses now on the evaluation and publication of results in collaboration with colleagues in Trentino and South Tyrol. At selected sites in North Tyrol (Austria) and South Tyrol (Italy) field work will be carried on for long-term data series also in the future. K. Krainer (University of Innsbruck) continued his research on the impact of climate change on permafrost hydrogeology, particularly on the discharge of rock glaciers and meltwater chemistry (particularly concentration of heavy metals) in the Eastern Alps thereby cooperating with G. Winkler (University of Graz).
Researchers at the Institute of Ecology of the University of Innsbruck (K. Koinig, B. Ilyashuk, E. Ilyashuk, G. Köck, R. Lackner, R. Psenner) continued to investigate high mountain water bodies affected by rock glacier melt water. B. Ilyashuk is currently compiling the analyses performed in a ca. 300 year old sediment core obtained from a lake affected by a rock glacier. Within a new project that will start in 2016 (PI K. Koinig and B. Ilyashuk), lakes with and without rock glacier influence located between 2500 and 3200 m a.s.l. will be monitored bi-annually in order to trace the impact of ongoing climate warming on rock glacier melt water inputs and to help the interpretation of changes observed in the sediment cores.
M. Luetscher from the Innsbruck Quaternary Research Group (University of Innsbruck) carried out paleo-permafrost research particularly in the Western European Alps. Several locations in different karst caves allow the identification of past permafrost thawing phases based on cryogenic cave calcite. At ten cave sites temperature monitoring was initiated in order to study permafrost changes in karst aquifers. One of these sites is the Jochloch cave, the highest cave in Austria at 3470 m a.s.l.
The time series of the measurements of flow velocities of the Äußeres Hochebenkar Rock Glacier in the Ötztal Alps have been continued in 2015. 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). Also at this rock glacier very high flow velocites were measured; the highest values so far. These results are in accordance to the results from the Hohe Tauern Range (see above).


Current research activities by the GBA, Department of Geophysics (R. Supper, S. Pfeiler) and the ZAMG group in Vienna (A. Bartsch, S. Reisenhofer) at Kitzsteinhorn and at Hoher Sonnblick were mentioned above. W. Schöner changed his position in 2014 and supports since September 2014 the permafrost/periglacial group at the Department of Geography and Regional Science at the University of Graz.
The Vienna University of Technology (A. Bartsch, E. Högström) as well as ZAMG (A. Bartsch, B. Widhalm) contributed to permafrost monitoring in the arctic by developing new methods for land surface characterization. These activities are part of to the FP7 project PAGE21. A method for correction satellite-derived near-surface soil moisture taking into account issues related to thaw lakes has been developed and published. A novel circum-arctic map describing wetlands for upscaling of fluxes has been published. Field measurements with focus on landsurface dynamics detectable with satellite data for linkage with GTN-P and CALM data in cooperation with the Russian Academy of Science were carried out by ZAMG on the Yamal peninsula in summer 2015.

Report prepared by Dr. Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer, Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz (