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)
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.
1st March 2012 Interview to N. Kehrwald
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.