- A warming of mountain permafrost in Europe of 0.5-1.0 oC was observed during the past 10-20 years.
- Present and projected atmospheric warming will likely lead to wide-spread thaw of mountain permafrost.
- Warming and melting of permafrost is expected to contribute to increasing the destabilization of mountain rock-walls, the frequency of rock falls, debris flow activity and geotechnical and maintenance problems in high-mountain infrastructure.
Temperature measured in different boreholes in mountain permafrost in Switzerland 1987-2007
Note: Note: Measured at ca
PERMOS, 2007. Permafrost in Switzerland 2002/2003 and 2003/2004. Glaciological Report (Permafrost) 4(5) of the Glaciological Commission of the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SAS) and Department of Geography, University of Zurich
Temperature distribution within a mountain range containing permafrost
Note: Note: Permafrost is present in the blue area bordered by a black line.
Gruber, S. and Haeberli, W., 2007. Permafrost in steep bedrock slopes and its temperature-related destabilization following climate change. Journal of Geophysical Research 112, p. F02S18
Data from a north-south transect of boreholes, 100 m or more deep, extending from Svalbard to the Alps (European PACE-project) indicate a long-term regional warming of permafrost of 0.5-1.0 oC during the recent decade (Harris et al., 2003). In Scandinavia and Svalbard, monitoring over 5-7 years shows warming down to 60 m depth and current warming rates at the permafrost surface of 0.04-0.07 oC/year (Isaksen et al., 2007). In Switzerland, a warming trend and increased active-layer depths were observed in 2003, but results varied strongly between borehole locations due to variations in snow cover and ground properties (PERMOS, 2007). At the Murtel-Corvatsch (rock-glacier) borehole in the Swiss Alps, the only long-term data record (20 years), permafrost temperatures in 2001, 2003 and 2004 were only slightly below - 1 oC (Figure 1) and were, apart from 1993 and 1994, the highest since measurements began in 1987 (Vonder Muhll et al., 2007). Such data measured at rock-glaciers are difficult to interpret because the sub-surface thermodynamics in ice-rich frozen debris is rather complex. Complementary and clearer signals on thawing permafrost are expected from boreholes drilled directly into bedrock (e.g. Schilthorn, M. Barba Peider; Figure. 2). Corresponding monitoring programmes, such as PACE and PERMOS, however, only started less than a decade ago.
No specific projections on the behaviour of mountain permafrost are yet available, but changes in mountain permafrost are likely to continue in the near future and the majority of permafrost bodies will experience warming and/or melting. According to recent model calculations based on the regional climate model REMO and following the IPCC SRES-Scenarios A1B, A2 and B1, a warming of up to 4 oC by 2100 is projected for the Alpine region (Jacob et al., 2007). Further rises in temperature and melting permafrost could increasingly destabilise mountain walls and increase the frequency of rock falls, posing problems to mountain infrastructure and communities (Gruber et al., 2004a). The warming and thaw of bedrock permafrost can sometimes be rapid and failure along ice-filled joints can occur even at temperatures below 0 oC (Davies et al., 2001). Water flowing along linear structures and the advection of heat along joint systems will further accelerate destabilisation (Gruber and Haeberli, 2007).
Indicator specification and metadata
- Temperature measured in different boreholes in mountain permafrost in Switzerland 1987-2007
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
No related policy documents have been specified
Methodology for indicator calculation
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
No uncertainty has been specified
Permafrost in the Swiss Alps
provided by University of Zurich
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 011
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
EEA Management Plan2008 0.0.0 (note: EEA internal system)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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