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Alpine snow and water resources

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Under the influence of climate change, phases in which either too much or too little water drains will occur more frequently in future. At the WSL and SLF, a range of research groups study hydrological and climatological issues, particularly in connection with snow, runoff, climate and natural hazards.


Fluctuating water levels at the Griessee reservoir. Photos: WSL


Snow as a water resource

The WSL and SLF maintain various Switzerland-wide snow and water measurement networks to record as accurately as possible when and how much snow and water is available where. Employees of the operational snow-hydrological service at the SLF continuously evaluate the current data and supply hydrological bulletins to the flood forecasters at the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).

We also use snow cover models to calculate the distribution of snow on the terrain. Only on the basis of comprehensive current measurements and calculations is it possible to make reliable statements about how the snow and water resources will evolve in future. For these future scenarios, we couple hydrological and meteorological computer models.

Flood and drought

Floods and phases of severe drought will increase with climate change, which presents new challenges for disaster relief and the hydropower industry. How can we predict situations with too much or too little water? We investigate the spatial and temporal distribution and variability of the water resources in mountain basins and in larger Alpine river basins. We analyse current events, create computer simulations and evaluate long series of measurements statistically. The results are available to water users on the platform

Hydroelectric power

As part of the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research - Supply of Electricity (SCCER-SoE), we are carrying out various research projects on future hydrological conditions and optimising the production of hydroelectric power. A major goal is to examine the possibilities of longer-term forecasts of water runoff in the mountains, which could benefit the water industry. We are also designing a forecasting system for snowmelt and investigating the use of energy and water resources in winter sports areas. A bedload measuring system built at the Albula (Tiefencastel) in 2015 is intended to provide a better understanding of the bedload discharge into the Solis reservoir.