During the summer of 2012, the activities on Mt. Ortles were aimed at achieving two main goals: maintenance of the automatic weather station (AWS, Figure 1) and the measurement of the mass balance on the site of the AWS and on the drilling site performed in 2011. These activities were coordinated by researchers of the Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry of the University of Padova and of the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, University of Udine, which have installed the weather station and carry on glaciological and hydrological investigations in the Eastern Italian Alps, mainly focused on the Ortles-Cevedale massif. Investigations were carried out in cooperation with the Byrd Polar Research Center of Ohio State University, the Hydrographic Office of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (University of Pavia), the Department of Geosciences (University of Padova) and the Environmental Science Department (University of Venice)
Permafrost is one of the main components of the Earth’s cryosphere, which is a word indicating all the ice existing on Earth. It is defined as “any subsurface material which remains at or below a temperature of 0°C for at least two consecutive years” and mainly occurs in high-latitude areas of the northern hemisphere (look at its distribution map here).
Permafrost may also exist at high altitude areas of the mid- and low-latitudes, such as the Alps
The first results from the Ortles ice cores were recently presented at the international paleoclimatology conference IPICS 2012 (International Partnerships in Ice Core Science) in Marseille, France. The cores were drilled last year under the auspices of the international “Ortles Project”.
The “Ortles Project” is an international research project coordinated by the Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University and the autonomous province of Bolzano. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation and includes scientific collaboration with IDPA-CNR Venice, The University of Innsbruck, The University of Bern, The Russian Academy of Sciences, The University of Padova (TeSAF), the geological survey of the province of Bolzano, the University of Pavia, Waterstones srl, and the remote sensing group at EURAC in Bolzano.
The research scope uses a series of Ortles ice cores drilled to bedrock as an archive of past climate conditions affecting the Eastern Alps. “The ice core study is accompanied by monitoring the Ortles ice cap as a strategic observatory of climate change affecting high altitude sites, with particular attention to the physical variations in the ice mass and permafrost extent,” explains Roberto Dinale from the provincial hydrological office.
Although melting has affected the surface of the Ortles glaciers during recent summers, deeper glacial ice has conserved an annual archive of past atmospheric chemistry. The analyses, coordinated by Paolo Gabrielli of the Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University, demonstrate that the ice from a depth of 41 m demonstrate characteristic radioisotope layers resulting from atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963. This marker is identifiable in ice cores from Antartica to Greenland, and is a frequently used stratigraphic marker for dating ice cores. “Along these lines, we also extracted a pine needle at 74 m depth that has been transported by wind to these high altitudes in the past, which allowed us to carbon-14 date the basal Ortles ice to a date of approximately 2664 years before present, which corresponds with the second Iron Age,” explains Dr. Gabrielli.
“These first results”, explains Hanspeter Staffler, director of the civil and fire protection of the province of Bolzano, “ are encouraging as they verify that we were able to recover this important archive of climate and environmental information before they were compromised by melting caused by the increased summer temperatures over the past 30 years”. Ongoing and future analyses will provide more precise climatic indications over the time period encompassed by the Ortles ice cores.
Pochi giorni fa si è conclusa la seconda edizione del Campus di Glaciologia 2012 realizzato dai dipartimenti istruzione di lingua italiana e tedesca della Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano.
22 studenti di entrambe le lingue, appartenenti a 11 differenti scuole della provincia di Bolzano, hanno trascorso 5 giorni (dal 17 al 22 Settembre) molto intensi e fatti di incontri con ricercatori, guide e responsabili del Parco dello Stelvio, escursioni sul territorio e laboratori didattici con lo scopo di conoscere da vicino natura, ruolo e metodi di studio dei ghiacciai.
La sede di svolgimento del Campus è stata l’Hotel Franzehohe situato a pochi chilometri dal Passo dello Stelvio sul versante di Bolzano. Il programma del corso ha permesso agli studenti di seguire una presentazione del Dott Gabrielli (Coordinatore scientifico del progetto Ortles) che ha parlato via Skype dagli Stati Uniti. L’escursione si è svolta sul Ghiacciaio di Solda, con l’ausilio di guide alpine e istruttori, ed ha permesso agli studenti di raggiungere la Cima Solda.
Il prossimo appuntamento è dal 22 al 24 Ottobre 2012 presso l’EURAC (Bolzano) dove si svolgeranno le giornate della Scienza. In quell’occasione gli studenti parleranno della loro esperienza.
Dal 18 al 22 Settembre 2012 si svolgerà la Seconda Edizione del campus di Glaciologia del Progetto Ortles, organizzato dal Dipartimento istruzione e formazione italiana, Area pedagogica, in collaborazione con il Deutsche Bildungsresort Bereich Innovation und Beratung.
How did you happen to take part in scientific expeditions in extreme environments?
I vividly remember the first time that I saw a mountain over 6000 meters in elevation. I was invited to be a member of a mountaineering expedition in Perù, and when we first arrived, I was scanning the horizon for the mountains that we were going to climb. I was used to 4000 m mountains in Colorado, and so I immediately began looking at a certain altitude. I had to keep looking higher and higher, and when I eventually saw the summit I mumbled something along the lines of, “We are going to climb THAT?!”. The immensity of the mountains and glaciers give an impression of a very permanent presence.
Today, we publish another interview with a participant in the autumn 2011 scientific expedition to the Ortler mountain. The person interviewed is Valentin Hofer, a doctor who took part as a member of the mountain rescue service and as a Eurac researcher/consultant.
How did you get to work on the Ortler project?
I was invited by the EURAC Institute of Alpine Emergency Medicine, both as a mountain emergency doctor and as a scientific consultant for a EURAC high altitude medicine project, which was associated with the Ortler project.
What is your particular scientific interest in high altitudes?
As a mountain emergency doctor I’m primarily interested in the various kinds of altitude sickness. Not only is the sickness itself interesting, but also possible connections to accidents on the mountain.
What kind of atmosphere was there among the participants in the camp at altitude?
Almost three months have passed since the “hot” phase of the Ortler project, meaning those three weeks in September and October 2011, when an international research team extracted for the very first time an ice core from the bottom of the summit of the Ortler glacier in the Eastern Alps. This happened four times: the team was able to extract a 75 metre ice core three times and a 60 metre core once.
During that same period some 20 high school students from the surrounding area got involved through educational activities organised by the same researchers. The goal was to bring teachers and students to the place where the research was taking place – and while it was ongoing – in order to allow them to “witness” the research.
A few weeks ago the “Science Days” took place in Bolzano at EURAC. It is a type of fair around the subject of teaching science, where students, teachers and authorities met in order to find out about and present the projects currently ongoing in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano.
This initiative is organised by the Italian Division for Education and Training – Pedagogical Section- of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano. The schools participating in the Ortler project also took part and each student group gave a brief presentation on their own work to the audience. You can find all presentations on our homepage.
It was a unique opportunity to observe personally whether and how much has been going on in the schools regarding this project. It all happened only short time after those 20 days in September, when the three main educational activities took place: the glaciology camp, the visit to the perforation site and the Social Media Campus.
We were particularly impressed by the enthusiasm, the energy and the passion demonstrated by the students while presenting their experiences. They used various methods: short papers, close examinations, picture galleries, etc. All this also positively impressed the (young and older) students visiting the fair.
A few days ago the “Science Day” took place in Bolzano/Bozen at EURAC. The Science Day is a type of fair where projects, proposals and ideas for teaching science in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen were presented. The ORTLER project was presented as well and we were able to see close up how much has been happening around this project so far. We will soon publish new posts including pictures and reports about the work currently going on in all participating schools.
Today we have the honour of publishing an interview with Dr. Paolo Gabrielli, a researcher from the Trentino region in Italy, who is also the scientific coordinator of the project. He was able to answer to some of our questions shortly before returning to work at the Byrd Polar Centre of the Ohio State University of Columbus (USA).
Paolo, you are shortly due to go back to the USA. Four ice cores, three of them reaching down to the rock underneath the glacier, were extracted. Were you expecting such a result a few months ago?
To tell you the truth, yes, I was expecting this, although the extraction of four ice cores was our most ambitious goal. We had prepared everything in such a way that would allow this result. I would have considered extracting one such ice core, reaching down to the rock, a success. This was not a certainty at the outset… especially considering the technical difficulties we had during the operations.
What are the unique features of this project?