Tag: Alps

Can the Hochbärneckalm survive global warming?

Climate change threatens traditional mountain agriculture in the Alps

Hochbärneck Alm Austria
The Hochbärneck Alm (900 meters) in Lower Austria’s Alpine region. @bberwyn photo.

Supported by the Earth Journalism Network and Internews

By Bob Berwyn

LOWER AUSTRIA — Austria’s high alpine pastures, called Alms, are an important part of the country’s cultural tradition. For centuries, herders have driven cattle and sheep up and down the sides of the mountains following seasonal cycles of plant growth and snow melt.

The livestock grazing is managed mindfully to promote vegetation growth and biodiversity. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but the rhythm of alpine grazing actually fosters biodiversity. Orchids, medicinal herbs and wildflowers thrive in the clearings and create lush green open patches in the landscape that are aesthetically pleasing.

In recent decades, the simple shelter huts near the pastures have also been developed as a recreational and economic resource, providing meals and lodging for tourists and serving as base camps for trekkers and cyclists.

At the Hochbärneck Alm, 900 meters elevation, there are also two ski lifts, but this past winter, they only operated for two days. Just 20 years ago, the ski season ran from late November through March. In recent years, it has barely snowed and temperatures were have been above the 20th century average nearly every day.

But climate change is taking a toll on Austria. The country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, more than twice the global average of .85 degrees Celsius, according to a 2014 climate assessment. That warming spells big changes for mountain environments, including the bucolic pastures around the Alm. For now, the cowbells still chime, but the future is uncertain.

A sustained heatwave last summer hit Austrian agriculture especially hard, and the odds of more extreme weather are good, according to many recent climate studies. The heatwave also took a big bite out of Austria’s glaciers, where decades of rapid melting is one of the clearest signs of global warming.

Austria’s government has formally recognized the cultural, economic and ecological values of traditional mountain agriculture as part of its climate policies, and an ambitious national adaptation plan seeks to address the challenges by helping communities boost ecosystem health. Keeping forests, meadows and streams healthy is one of the best ways to protect against climate change impacts.

With support from the Earth Journalism Network and Internews, we’ll be exploring this topic for the next several weeks, following herders as they move their livestock up into the Alpine zone, on through to the end of the summer, when the cows-bedecked with flowers and bells, are driven back to the valley towns for the winter in a colorful procession.

We’ll explore some of the best practices for sustaining ecosystems and mountain communities and ask whether the farmers are getting the support that’s needed, as spelled out by the adaptation plan. And we’ll here from them what changes they’ve already experienced.

Follow our Twitter feed for frequent updates and Instagram for photos from the reporting project — and don’t be afraid to ask questions or add comments about global warming in the Austrian Alps. We’ll include those questions in our interviews with environmental experts, resource managers and government officials as we report on climate change in the Austrian Alps.

climate change austrian alps
Austrian farmers increasingly are having to adapt to big shift in seasonal weather patterns as the globe warms. @bberwyn photo.

 

 

 

Study confirms rapid warming in European Alps

Does industrial soot play a role in the meltdown of Alpine glaciers?

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How long will the European Alps remain snow-clad? Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With temperatures in the European Alps rising twice as fast as the global average, there’s little hope of saving some of the world’s most famous glaciers without immediate and significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

And there’s little doubt that the warming is caused by those emissions. Findings from a new study show the sudden onset of warming about 30 years ago. The study, led by researchers with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State, offers new and compelling evidence that the Italian Alps are warming at an unprecedented rate. Continue reading “Study confirms rapid warming in European Alps”

Alpine settlement ocurred earlier than believed

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Research in the southern French Alps show signs of human activity at higher elevations going back 8.000 years.

New study finds signs of human activity at high elevations going back 8,000 years

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The high Alps of Europe may have been settled quite a bit earlier than believed, according to new research by French and British archaeologists. The 14-year study in the Parc National des Écrins in the southern Alps is one of the most detailed archaeological investigations carried out at high altitudes.

The work included the excavation of a series of stone animal enclosures and human dwellings considered some of most complex high altitude Bronze Age structures found anywhere in the Alps. Continue reading “Alpine settlement ocurred earlier than believed”

Morning photo: Peaks

Reaching for the sky …

A classic Patagonia skyline features some of the craggiest peaks in the world.

FRISCO — I missed my favorite Twitter chat last week, but got all giddy when I saw this week’s #FriFotos theme — peaks. I live amidst the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, and at least a third of the pictures in my ever-growing photo archives features peaks in all shapes and sizes. I’m looking forward to seeing great images of mountains from around the world. It’s easy to join the fun. Just upload your own favorite peak pictures, tag then with #FriFotos and post them to Twitter, share and comment.

The M/V Professor Molchanov at anchor near a remote peak in Antarctica.

Continue reading “Morning photo: Peaks”

Climate: Some regions see more flooding during cooling regimes

Study in Alpine lakes traces 1,600-year of history climate change

Sediments in Austria’s Mondsee show more evidence of flooding during transitions to cooler climate phases.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While many recent research projects have highlighted the potential for more extreme weather as the planet warms up, a new study from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences indicates that parts of the Alps saw more extreme flooding during periods of transition to cooler climatic conditions.

By studying sediment layers in the Mondsee, an Alpine lake near Salzburg, Austria, the researchers found evidence of flooding during the time of the Great Migration and the Early Middle Ages (AD 450-750), as well as the transition to the Little Ice Age (AD 1140-1520). In contrast, there was less flooding during the medieval warm phase (AD 1000-1140) and the coldest period of the Little Ice Age (AD 1600-1700). Continue reading “Climate: Some regions see more flooding during cooling regimes”

Global warming: Famed Austrian peak nearly ice-free

Summit monument on popular peak threatens to topple

The summit cross on the 3,660-meter Grossvenediger in Austria recently threatened to topple over, as warming temperatures have melted the permanent snow and ice that held the monument in place for decades. Photo courtesy Bergrettung Prägraten.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — In yet another sign of how quickly global warming is eating away at glaciers in the European Alps, the Austrian Alpine Club is reporting that the summit cross high on the 3,660-meter Grossvenediger in Austria came close to toppling off its podium this summer.

The permanent snow and ice that helped hold the monument in place for decades melted away in the summer heat, with several feet of ice vanishing just in the past few months. A mountain guide arriving at the summit last week discovered that the cross was close to falling over, with potential risks to summit visitors. Continue reading “Global warming: Famed Austrian peak nearly ice-free”

Climate: Bark beetles on the rise in Europe

Norway Spruce.

Attacks increase when temperatures climb and precipitation dwindles

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Forests in the American West aren’t the only ones facing an increasing threat from tree-killing beetles. A European researcher recently studied the pattern and impact of outbreaks by the bark beetle in the southern Alps, measuring  the size and distribution of the infested areas occurring along steep temperature gradients  between 1994 and 2009 and matched the observations with climatic changes.

The results, published online in Springer’s Climatic Change, shows that there were more attacks by the spruce bark beetle on European Alpine spruce forests over a 16 year period, as temperatures rose and rainfall dropped, according to Lorenzo Marini, of the University of Padova in Italy. Continue reading “Climate: Bark beetles on the rise in Europe”