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Mountain permafrost research in Giessen

The alpine / polar working group of the Institute for Geography at the Giessen University researches mountain permafrost in the Matter valley (Valais, Swiss Alps) since 1985. Figure 1 shows an overview map of the working area. The map displays the actual glaciation (light blue), the modeled permafrost distribution (blue = permafrost probable, pink = permafrost possible), the location of boreholes (red dots) and meteorological installations (yellow dots) as well as the present research areas Gornergrat-Stockhorn and Grächen-Seetalhorn (red borders).

Earlier permafrost studies include an inventory of rock glaciers (VOLK 1990). In the surroundings of Zermatt, especially in the Gornergrat-Stockhorn area, the following scientific works have been done:

  • Analysis of frost weathering in rockwalls (HURYCH 1987)
  • Local rock- and ground temperature measurements (KING 1990)
  • Geophysical soundings, BTS-measurements and application of digital permafrost distribution models (KALISCH 1997, KING & KALISCH 1998, SCHLERF 1999)
  • Investigations of interactions between touristic installations and permafrost (KING 1996, HOF et al. 2003) 
     
    During the PACE-project two permafrost drillings (depths: 100 and 32 meters, respectively) have been conducted at Stockhornplateau (3410 m a.s.l.) and instrumented with thermistor strings for long term monitoring of permafrost temperatures (KING et al. 2003). In summer 2002 the department of Geography at the University of Zurich installed the associated meteorological station facilitating the investigation of local energy balance processes.
    A further study investigated the possible interrelations of permafrost distribution and slope instabilities in the Matter valley. For this purpose, a digital elevation model (25 m grid), remote sensing data (LANDSAT image, air photographs) and field data have been combined (GRUBER 2000).
    Preliminary investigations of microclimate in coarse debris covers were done in the area Grächen-Seetalhorn (HERZ et al. 2003a).
    The Stockhorn borehole data are analysed with regard to effects of complex mountain topography on the subsurface temperature regime (GRUBER et al. in prep., LUDWIG 2003).

The current DFG-funded project „Periglazial Mattertal“ investigates the influence of substrate properties within the periglacial belt on the energy exchange between the near ground atmosphere and the subsurface. A main focus in this context are cover layers consisting of coarse debris (HERZ et al. 2003b, PHILIPPI et al. 2003). Comparable measurements are conducted in the test areas Grächen-Seetalhorn and Gornergrat-Stockhorn, as indicated in Figure 1.
In the test area Grächen-Seetalhorn the coarse cover layer of the Ritigraben block slope was instrumented with 80 temperature sensors in summer 2002 to measure rock temperatures as well as air temperatures in voids between blocks. Comparable temperature measurements in finer grained substrates were installed in the near surrounding. Meteorological and subsurface temperature data are available from a climate station and an accompanying 30 m deep borehole installed by the Canton Valais in March 2002.
In the research area Gornergrat-Stockhorn (Figure 1) 40 sensors were installed in August 2002, measuring shallow ground temperatures at different levels. The ground temperature measurements are performed at eight vertical profiles differing in substrate and moisture conditions. Two of theses profiles were installed within the surface layer of active rock glaciers in order to compare the thermal regimes of coarse debris with the temperatures of the adjacent soil profiles. The permafrost models (e.g. GRUBER 2000) indicate probable permafrost occurrence for the whole research area. However, since these models do not consider the site specific variations in soil properties which greatly affect the thermal regime, the local permafrost pattern of the research area is yet not known. The investigations will provide quantitative insights into ground thermal regimes and will enable to establish a correlation between the measured soil temperatures and different soil properties and their possible effects on the discontinuous permafrost distribution. For preliminary results see PHILIPPI et al. 2003.

Furthermore, a permafrost-model has been developed for the research areas Grächen-Seetalhorn and Gornergrat-Stockhorn, incorporating the regional characteristics of these areas. This model uses information on air temperature, solar radiation as well as local patterns of surface structure in order to take into account the "cooling" effect of block covers. The model is currently being calibrated and tested using numerous BTS-data.

References:

HERZ, T. (2006):
Das Mikroklima grobblockiger Schutthalden der alpinen Periglazialstufe und seine Auswirkungen auf Energieaustauschprozesse zwischen Atmosphäre und Lithosphäre
http://geb.uni-giessen.de/geb/volltexte/2006/3837/

HERZ, T., KING, L. (2004):
Thermal Regime of Coarse Debris Covers in the Belt of Discontinuous Mountain Permafrost.
Geopyhysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 6, No. 00774.

HERZ, T., PHILIPPI, S., HOF, R., KING, L. (2005):
The influence of substrate and surface characteristics on the ground thermal regime and mountain permafrost distribution – Examples from the Matter Valley, Swiss Alps.
2nd European Conference on Permafrost, Abstract volume, 129f.

HOF, R. (2004):
Datenbank- und GIS-gestützte Modellierung der regionalen Verbreitung von Permafrost in zwei Testgebieten des Mattertals, Schweiz.
Diplomarbeit. Institut für Geographie, JLU Giessen, 63pp.

HOF, R., KING, L., HERZ, T. (2005):
Database- and GIS-based modelling of the regional permafrost distribution – Examples from the Mattertal, Swiss Alps.
2nd European Conference on Permafrost, Abstract volume, 130f.

PHILIPPI, S. (2004):
Kleinräumige Variabilität der Bodentemperatur innerhalb der diskontinuierlichen Permafroststufe des Gornergratgebiets, Walliser Alpen.
Diplomarbeit, Institut für Geographie, JLU Giessen, 84pp.

PHILIPPI, S., KING, L. (2004):
Shallow Ground Temperature Measurements in the Zone of Discontinuous Permafrost – Matter Valley, Swiss Alps.
Geopyhysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 6, No. 00633.

PHILIPPI, S., HERZ, T., GRUBER, S., KING, L. (2005):
Topographic effects on shallow ground temperatures – Measurement at the PACE-Permafrost monitoring site Stockhorn Plateau, Matter Valley, Swiss Alps.
2nd European Conference on Permafrost, Abstract volume, 144.

GRUBER, S. (2000):
Slope Instability and Permafrost – a spatial analysis in the Matter Valley, Switzerland.
Unpublished masters thesis at the Institute for Geography, JLU Giessen, 65 pp.

GRUBER, S., KOHL, T., HOELZLE, M., HERZ, T. & KING, L. (2004):
Interpretation of a Temperature Profile Perturbed by Topography: the Alpine Permafrost Boreholes at Stockhorn plateau, Switzerland. Submitted to Permafrost and Periglacial Processes.

HERZ, T., KING, L. & GUBLER, H. (2003a):
Microclimate within coarse debris of talus slopes in the alpine periglacial belt and its effect on permafrost.
Proceedings of the 8th Interntational Conference on Permafrost, Zurich, 21-25 July, 383-387.

HERZ, T., KING, L. & GUBLER, H. (2003b):
Thermal regime within coarse debris of talus slopes in the alpine periglacial belt and its effect on permafrost.
Poster presented at the 8th International Conference on Permafrost, Zurich, 21-25 July

HOF, R., KING, L., HERZ, T. & GRUBER, S. (2003):
Influence of human activities and climatic change on permafrost at construction sites in Zermatt, Swiss Alps.
Poster presented at the 8th International Conference on Permafrost, Zurich, 21-25 July

HURYCH, U. (1987):
Untersuchungen zur Frostverwitterung – Geländeaufnahmen am Gornergrat und experimentelle Untersuchungen.
Unpublished masters thesis at the Institute for Geography, JLU Giessen, 231 pp.

KALISCH, A. (1997):
Permafrostverbreitung im Raum Zermatt – Modellrechnung und Überprüfung der Ergebnisse anhand eigener Geländeuntersuchungen.
Unpublished masters thesis at the Institute for Geography, JLU Giessen, 116 pp.

KING, L. (1990):
Soil and Rock Temperatures in Discontinuous Permafrost: Gornergrat and Unterrothorn, Wallis, Swiss Alps.
Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 1, 177-188.

KING, L. (1996):
Dauerfrostboden im Gebiet Zermatt – Gornergrat – Stockhorn: Verbreitung und permafrostbezogene Erschließungsarbeiten.
Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie N.F., Suppl.-Bd. 104, 73-93.

KING, L. & KALISCH, A. (1998):
Permafrost distribution and implications for construction in the Zermatt area, Swiss Alps.
Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Permafrost, Yellowknife, 569-574.

KING, L., HOF, R., HERZ, T. & GRUBER, S. (2003):
Long-Term Monitoring of Borehole Temperatures and Permafrost-related Data for Climate Change Research and Natural Hazard Management.
Poster presented at the 8th International Conference on Permafrost, Zürich, 21-25 July.

LUDWIG, F. (2003):
Variable Oberflächenbedingungen als Ursache der Temperaturverteilung im Untergrund alpiner Permafrostgebiete.
Unpublished masters thesis at the Institute for Geography, JLU Giessen, 62 pp.

PHILIPPI, S., HERZ, T. & KING, L. (2003):
Near-surface ground temperatures and permafrost distribution at Gornergrat, Matter Valley, Swiss Alps. Poster presented at the 8th International Conference on Permafrost, Zurich, 21-25 July.

SCHLERF, M. (1999):
Die GIS-gestützte Untersuchung von Hanginstabilitäten und Permafrost im Gornergratgebiet, Wallis.
Unpublished masters thesis at the Institute for Geography, JLU Giessen, 92 pp.

VOLK, M. (1990):
Vergleichende klimatologische Analyse der Höhenlage von Blockgletschern in zwei Untersuchungsräumen der Schweizer Alpen.
Unpublished masters thesis at the Institute for Geography, JLU Giessen, 105 pp