An unprecedented change in the Ortles glacier
After two years of study of the highest glacier of South Tyrol and the Eastern Alps, the researchers present their results.
These are geologists, climatologists, and medical doctors from more than 20 different institutions from around the world. In common they have their source of research information. During 2011 they were involved in a scientific expedition on Mt. Ortles to gather information and study this glacier, climate and the high altitude environment.
Two years after the expedition the project partners have met in a workshop that was held on September the 10th at EURAC in Bolzano (Italy). They have presented results of the principal studies, evaluated new research perspectives and possible collaborations.
Glaciers represent a precious archive of our climatic and environmental history and, at the same time, they help to understand what is happening today. That is why in 2011 the specialists of The Ohio State University, the department of the Civil Protection of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano and a large international team of researchers have drilled the summit glacier of Mt. Ortles at 3859 m of elevation. They have drilled down to 75 m of depth to extract ice cores to be analyzed at the laboratories of the Byrd Polar Research Center (The Ohio State University), the University of Venice and Innsbruck. The first analyses have shown how atmospheric warming, as observed also at the highest elevations during the last 30 years, is changing the internal characteristics of the glacier. This is a change that, accordingly to the researchers, would be unprecedented during the last centuries or even millennia. Ice cores show that both atmospheric temperature and surface melting have recently quickly increased. The researchers have also focused on the study of the atmospheric pollution and have concluded that traces of the emissions from the Po’ Valley (North of Italy) can be found also in the surface snow layers of Mt. Ortles. The atmospheric circulation can in fact transport micro-particles form the surrounding lower territories up the high alpine glaciers.On the summit of Mt. Ortles, the specialists of the Office of Geology and Test of Materials of the Province of Bolzano and the University of Pavia have measured the surface and underground temperature to verify the presence of permafrost. The analyses have shown that, in spite of the rising atmospheric temperatures, frozen soil is still present on Mt. Ortles.The research on this mountain has also been an occasion for a medical study. Researchers of the Institute of Mountain Emergency of EURAC have joined the research to evaluate with an echography whether it was possible to obtain an early diagnosis of high altitude sickness. From this study a relation emerges between the augmentation of the diameter of the optical nerve (detected with an echography) and the presence of the symptoms. This preliminary result may represent a first step to prevent illnesses that put at risk the life of many alpinists.