The Eastern Alps host a great number of spectacular underground glaciers, which are among the largest of their kind on Earth and some of which are top tourist attractions. The fate of these ice caves in a warming world is unknown, but documentary evidence shows a large reduction in ice since the end of the "Little Ice Age", i.e. since the second half of the 19th century.
Recognizing the urgency of this matter this multi-disciplinary pilot study focussed on dynamically ventilated ice caves and attempted to (a) gain a better physical understanding of underground ice dynamics, (b) to develop constraints on the fate of alpine ice caves, and (c) to assess the unexplored potential of this ice as a paleoclimate archive in the Alps.
Supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, research program Alpenforschung.
P.i.: Christoph Spötl
Co-p.i.: Dietmar Wagenbach (Heidelberg Academy of Sciences)
External collaborators: Barbara May (Heidelberg Academy of Sciences), Friedrich Obleitner (University of Innsbruck), Wolfgang Schöner and Gernot Weyss (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, Vienna), Michael Behm (Technical University Vienna), Rudolf Pavuza (Museum of Natural History, Vienna), Alois Rettenbacher (Eisriesenwelt GmbH)
This large ice cave is cut in Triassic limestones of the western edge of Tennengebirge. There are several upper entrances, the highest of which is located at 2047 m and the total length of the system is 42 km. The lower entrance at 1641 m can be reached from Werfen using a cable car and is ca 20 m wide and 18 m high. From there a north-trending gallery leads to the highest point within the ice-filled part, 134 m above the entrance. According to surveys the total ice-covered area amounts to ca. 10,000 m2. The ice-filled passage was developed as a show cave which opened in 1920.
ORF Newton documentation from June 23, 2007 (Winamp media file)
See articles in a special issue of The Cryosphere (2011)