I don’t have an Instagram account, but thanks to having awesome, and talented friends, our work was featured on the National Geographic Instagram feed in October (I know – I’m slow to post this!) when photographer Robbie Shone joined us on a gorgeous day of fieldwork on Hintereisferner and the neighbouring glaciers. This high mountain valley hosts a scientifically valuable monitoring network, in which institutes including the University of Innsbruck (ACINN and Geography), the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (Commission for Glaciology and Geodesy), and the Tirolean Government (Hydrological Office) measure glacier change, permafrost change, meteorological conditions, precipitation, river runoff and more. These data are useful for understanding how the mountain environment is changing and can be used to develop numerical models of the environmental processes so that we can make useful predictions of future change.
The site is part of several international research networks: UNESCO IHP, GEWEX INARCH, ERB Euro-Mediterranean Network of Experimental and Representative Basins, The international Long Term Ecological Research network (LTER-Austria, LTER Europe and ILTER), and the basecamp Station is part of the EU Horizon 2020 INTERACT framework of Arctic (and a few Alpine) research stations.
We were doing two main things on this field work:
Firstly, we were measuring the glacier change. To do this we dig snowpits to record how much snow survived the summer and how much mass it adds to the glacier and also measure the length of stakes drilled into the glacier to record how much the ice surface has lowered, so they know how much ice the glacier has lost at that point over the year. They sum these mass gains and losses like a bank balance to see how the glacier has changed over a year, and extrapolate the changes at each measurement point across the glacier.
Here I am sampling snow density through the fresh early autumn snow and the snow that survived the previous summer. We need the density of the snow so we can convert the snowdepth into a mass of water – the same depth of heavy wet snow is worth much more water than diamond powder. Photo credit: Robbie Shone.
The data are reported to the World Glacier Monitoring Service. Changes to the Hintereisferner have been measured this way by the University of Innsbruck for over 60 years, making it one of the longest detailed records of glacier change in the world!
Secondly, we were collecting data, and performing maintenance at our meteorological stations. There are six automatic weather stations operating at high elevation in this watershed, and a number of historical rain guages that have been measured for decades.