Projects Detail

Ice Caves

Austria hosts some of the largest ice caves on this planet. These underground glaciers are not only top tourist attractions; they also preserve ancient precipitation frozen in ice. Unfortunately, little is known about how these ice deposits grew and decay and how precisely they store climate information.

This project examines a special type of ice caves found in the Eastern Alps, i.e. vertical, sag-type caves that act as traps of cold winter air and snow. Preliminary studies suggest that these caves are uniquely suited to preserve a centennial-, if not millennial-scale record of winter precipitation. The aim of this project is to reach beyond the instrumental period and to obtain palaeoclimate data since the onset of the so-called Little Ice Age, a cool and varied period which lasted from approximately 1250 to 1850 AD. This research is timely given the rapid decrease in ice volume in most alpine ice caves in the last couple of decades, threatening the survival of this potentially unique archive in the Alps in a warming world.

FWF project no. P318740
P.i.: Christoph Spötl
Duration: 2019-2022
Co-p.i.: Friedrich Obleitner (Institute of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences)
PhD students: Tanguy Racine, Maria Wind
Scientific collaborators: Mathias Rotach (Institute of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences), Kurt Nicolussi (Institute of Geography), Paula Reimer (Queen´s University of Belfast), Klaus Oeggl (Institute of Botany), Wolfgang Schöner (University of Graz)
Supporting cavers: Rudi Weißmair, Eduard Knoll, Barbara Wielander, Lukas Plan, Eckart Herrmann

Recent publications:
Pfeiffer et al. (2022)
Racine et al. (2022a)
Racine et al. (2022b)

Wind et al. (2022)