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Snow and Ice

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We investigate snow, ice and permafrost with their importance for winter tourism, drinking water and hydropower. We also research the processes of avalanche formation and the role of the global snow and ice masses for the climate.


Glaciers and the snow cover are huge seasonal water reservoirs. At the same time, Switzerland is highly dependent on snow for winter tourism. Climate-related changes are playing a increasing role in this. Our long-term measurement series help to understand and deal with them.

Glacier research in Switzerland and abroad

How does the melting of ice and glaciers affect the water supply in Switzerland and globally, and what organisms does it bring to light? In addition to expeditions to the polar and other regions, we explore the high mountain glaciers in the Himalayas, which are also known as the "third pole", and other regions of the earth.

Snow as a natural hazard

At the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, we investigate how avalanches occur, where they flow at what speed and under what pressure, and how we can protect ourselves from them. Our avalanche bulletin is an essential decision-making tool for safety managers in ski resorts and municipalities as well as ski tourers, freeriders and snowshoers.

Snow as a material

Our work in cold laboratories and in the snowpack ranges from researching snow metamorphosis and determining the mechanical properties of different types of snow to developing methods and equipment for studying snowpack structure and providing computer simulations of the snowpack.

Permafrost: permanently frozen ground

Permanently frozen ground or permafrost covers around 6% of the Swiss Alps and occurs primarily above 2400 m.  If permafrost thaws, this can lead to problems such as debris flows or unstable structures (avalanche structures, cable car infrastructure). We monitor the development of permafrost in climate change and investigate the complex processes between surface and subsurface.


Focus Areas

Glaciers and polar ice sheets

We study polar regions and Alpine glaciers in order to understand climate change and evaluate the future water reserves.


Snowpack plays a key role in local climate and water storage in alpine regions. Its structure is a decisive factor in avalanche formation.

Snow sports

Nowadays, success in snow sports depends on more than the athletes' performance. The material and knowledge of the snow are important factors too.


Research into avalanche formation, dynamics and protection is part of our remit. Our most important product is the avalanche bulletin.

Snow and climate change

Due to more frequent rainfall instead of snow and an earlier snow melt snow cover duration and maximum snow depths are declining in the Alps.

Water resources and energy

We examine the causes and effects of fluctuations in water availability, e.g. on hydropower.



High-tech equipment from Davos is being deployed in the Rockies to better understand snowmelt.

SLF researchers chase snow crystals around in circles in the wind tunnel. This is how they track down snow phenomena.

'Citizen scientists' provided vital support to SLF researchers as part of the project.

A 50-year comparison shows that drought deficits are increasing in Switzerland due to a lack of snow.