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Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements

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Head: Dr. Manfred Stähli

The Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements research unit studies hydrological, glaciological and natural hazard processes in predominantly mountainous, glacierized, and partially forested regions. Researchers assess damage and damage processes of frequent to rare, extreme natural events, as well as glacier dynamics and their impacts on water resources, landscape evolution and ecosystems, considering a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. In particular, they investigate the formation and propagation of flood flows, bedload transport, landslides and debris flows, and the occurrence of hydrological droughts. Both experiments and long-term measurements form the basis for the development and application of numerical models, prototype environmental sensors, and hazard assessment methods. The data collected are used for risk-based, sustainable management of natural hazards and water resources.

Current projects address pressing societal challenges, such as the early detection and warning of drought, debris-flow and landslide events, and the impacts of climate change on torrents, lake levels and hydrological extremes. Other projects concern the impact of regional and global glacier loss on downstream regions, ecosystems and water users, which is relevant for sustainable hydropower production in the context of the energy transition. Competence is available on the optimization of hydrological forecasts for improved management of flood events.

To this end, the research unit collaborates with other institutions of the ETH domain and national and international research institutions, as well as with government agencies, cantonal and municipal authorities, private sector companies, and NGOs. A significant contribution is made to (inter)national expert networks and to the further education of professionals in the domains of natural hazards and water resource management.




Flooding causes a huge amount of damage in Switzerland. We have been laying the foundations for flood forecasting and warnings for over 100 years.

Debris flows and bedload

Mountain torrents on steep terrain can sweep away destructive loads of rock. We investigate these processes to improve protection measures.


We investigate the triggering and runout of (shallow) landslides and develop methods for early warning.


Glaciers shape not only the Alpine region but also other mountain ranges and the polar regions. We study glaciological processes, glacier changes, and...

Droughts and water resources

Droughts have serious consequences for agriculture, water supply, energy production and natural ecosystems. We create the data basis to detect...


Key-assets of the research unit

Debris flow observatory Illgraben (VS)

We have been running a worldwide unique debris flow observatory for more than twenty years at the outlet of the Illgraben catchment in the canton of...

Hydrological research catchment Alptal (SZ)

In the pre-alpine catchment Alptal, central Switzerland, we are studying runoff formation, torrent processes, and the influence of forest cover,...

ERC Grant on debris-covered glaciers

Under an ERC Consolidator Grant, we are investigating the mass loss of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas and the associated impacts on water...

Drought information platform

We develop innovative products for information regarding drought in Switzerland. These are presented on our web platform "".


First-ever spin-off company launched

Based on our research in microwave remote sensing a first-ever WSL spin-off company has been launched developing a drone-based soil moisture...