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Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements

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Head: Dr. Manfred Stähli

The Research Unit "Mountain Hydrology and Mass Movements" investigates hydrological, glaciological, and natural hazard processes in predominantly mountainous, glaciated, and partially forested catchments. It investigates the triggering and propagation of high and low water runoff, drought, bedload transport, landslides, debris flows and, as well as glacier changes. The research unit conducts experiments and long-term measurements that form the basis for the development of simulation models, hazard assessment measures, and other applications.  The unit studies damage and damaging processes of frequent and extreme natural events, as well as glacier changes and their impacts on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The data collected by the unit are input variables for risk-based, sustainable management of natural hazards and water resources.
The research unit collaborates with partners within WSL, with other national and international research institutions, and with government agencies and private sector companies.




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...