A few days in the Salzkammergut, in search of cheese produced on juicy alpine pastures, yielded this set of shots, showing that cloudy days are good days for mountain photography — as long as you can keep your camera dry. Visit our online gallery for more landscape and nature photography, where you can buy prints, postcards and more, all while supporting independent environmental journalism. More info on climate change in the Austrian mountains at our Global Warming in the Alps blog.
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.
Nothing says summer like big thunderboomers building up, unless maybe it’s a tall glass of raspberry mint lemonade or a field of brilliant red poppies. For the Sunday set we compiled a few images from the past week with a focus on bright summer colors. The solstice is right around the corner so get out and enjoy those long days!
A leafy chestnut tree canopy offers cool green relief from late spring heat in Vienna.
Lemonade the way it should be, with slices of ginger, lemon and orange and a few sprigs of mint.
A ‘secret’ lilac garden set in the courtyard of one of Vienna’s many public housing projects.
Using a camera can be serious business, documenting war crimes, environmental destruction, or solemn ceremonies. But it can also be a form totally whimsical, in-the-moment recreation — let’s call it visual play. In that spirit, here’s a set from the streets of Vienna.
Spring fungi in the moist environs of the Heiligengeistklamm in southern Austria.
We had a chance to explore the Heiligengeistklamm (Gorge of the holy spirit) in southern Austria last weekend, doing a little loop hike that took us up along the stream close to waterfalls and lush wildflower blooms, and returning to the trail head on open slopes criss-crossing vineyards and elderberry orchards. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as elderberry orchards until I saw the carefully pruned trees just about to burst into full bloom. The gorge is along the famed south Styrian wine road, just a few miles from the Austrian border with Slovenia near the town of Leutschach.
Dried grass glows under afternoon sunlight against the backdrop of a dark forest in Thayatal National Park, Lower Austria.
Late afternoon light shimmers on budding trees in Thayatal National Park, Lower Austria.
A fallen beech in Thayatal National Park, Austria.
Green tinged fields in Lower Austria under an evening sky.
A spring rainstorm builds above the agricultural plains north of Vienna, Austria.
The Lower Austrian landscape encompasses everything from wild beech forests and deep river canyons to manicured fields — not to mention acres and acres of vineyard, but that’s another story! Austrians are still getting used to the concept of national parks. Thayatal was founded in 2002, so some local visitors still don’t quite understand why the park managers simply leave downed trees on the ground. It’s considered a waste by some, and the park features signs explaining how it’s a deliberate effort to recreate landscapes where natural processes are left to function without much interference. In this small country, nearly every acre of land is spoken for, most of it outside towns and cities dedicated to agriculture, but slowly, resource managers are making some headway in restoring natural ecosystems in a few areas, to the benefit of native species.
Near the Flakturm in Vienna’s 7th district, a couple of locals try an early ping pong game at a public table.
Downtown dog-walking at the corner of Lindengasse and Neubaugasse in Wien’s 7th district.
Bubble blower, Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna.
Rainy day pinks at the Siebensternplatz in Wien.
Early spring in the Mondscheingasse, Wien.
It doesn’t take long for Vienna to wake from its winter sleep. Just as soon as temperatures get into the 50s and 60s and the sun peaks out a little, cafes set up their outside tables where people huddle around even if they still have to wear a winter coat. In the parks and town squares, flowering trees add splashes of color to the neighborhood scene, and ping pong enthusiasts can strike up a friendly game in the park near the Flakturm. But keep your umbrella handy because April showers are not uncommon in the Danube metropolis.