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Climate Change Impacts on Alpine Mass Movements

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Global warming is melting glaciers and permafrost in high mountain regions, consequently destabilising soil masses of huge proportions. At the same time, the snowpack is also changing and the associated propensity for avalanches. Climate Change Impacts on Alpine Mass Movements, a strategic initiative, is researching these processes with a view to developing optimum adaptive strategies.


Climate change has already had a significant influence on all cryosphere elements, i.e. ice, snow and permafrost, and its impact is likely to escalate over the next few decades. Such impact includes cascade processes, such as rock slope failures, and more frequent debris flows involving soil masses released by permafrost. This threatens valley floors as was impressively demonstrated by the landslide in Bondo in August 2017.

WSL not only has a wealth of technical expertise regarding the processes of such natural hazards, their modelling and management, but also manages the world's largest network for monitoring permafrost in mountain areas.

Climate Change Impacts on Alpine Mass Movements researches mass movements and the impact of climate change in mountain areas. It improves the knowledge bases on the resulting risk of natural hazards and how the community should best deal with these.
We are working on the following research issues:

  • How will thawing of permafrost influence the risk of dangerous mass movements?
  • How can mass movements be modelled in a reliable manner in order to identify the areas at risk?
  • What are practical solutions when dealing with such natural hazards and their socio-economic consequences? Are existing protective structures appropriate?
  • How can mountain eco-systems, in particular forests, be managed in terms of optimum protection against natural hazards.