Intensive research on permafrost in the mountains has only been carried out for a few decades. Switzerland is currently participating in various projects which estimate and observe the occurrence of permafrost.
Permafrost can have a significant influence on the stability of built structures. Loose material which is saturated with ice often moves slowly down slopes. This can cause problems for structures built on permafrost soil, for example cableway stations. Hence it is important for the planning and maintenance of infrastructure in the high mountains to be aware of the occurrence of permafrost. This enables the early identification of possible problems and their consideration in planning processes. Unnecessary high costs and risks in the long term can be avoided through the use of suitably adapted structures.
Parts of the Gornergrat and Jungfrau railways were built on permafrost as far back as around 1900. Unexpected problems with ice-supersaturated debris arose in the 1950s during the construction of the Grande Dixence power plants. However, the researching of Alpine permafrost and the awareness of the existence of the phenomenon only developed from the 1970s.
PERMOS monitoring network
The extensive and deep melting of the permafrost may be expected as a result of climate change. However, the warming of the permafrost soil is considerably delayed with increasing depth. Thus complete melting can take between decades and centuries.
Coordinated monitoring networks have existed in Switzerland and throughout the world for a number of years now which measure, archive and evaluate permafrost temperatures and related parameters in the long term. The Swiss permafrost monitoring network PERMOS observes and documents changes in the occurrence and properties of permafrost. The results of this monitoring form the basis for the forecasting of future developments. The modelling of the permafrost occurrence is an important tool for sustainable planning.
Last modification 05.11.2018