Glaciers – changes over time

Glaciers in the Ötz valley have long been called “Ferner” (deriving from „firn – fern – fert“ = old snow). The approximate 1°C rise in temperature during summer over the last 150 years has led to rapid melting of many alpine glaciers: some shrinking to half their size. During warm summer seasons glaciers lose about 5-7 m at the tongue! The lateral moraines of the Rotmoos glacier near Obergurgl give an indication of the prior advances of the glacier.

The “Ferner” (glaciers) have noticeably retreated since their peak extension around 1850 and their advances in 1920 and 1980; however, the retreating ice does not leave behind a wasteland devoid of life. Instead, the newly uncovered land is populated in a typical succession. The glaciers are hence a large-scale experiment of nature.

You might observe some strange specimen with bizarre tools in hand as they roam the Rotmoos valley. These creatures are usually biologists from the University of Innsbruck examining in great detail where, which and how quickly different species of plants and aminals repopulate ice-free areas.

Did you know…?

  • There are currently 67 glaciers in the Ötztal Nature Park.
  • Right now, glaciers cover 19% of the total area of the Ötztal Nature Park.
  • The Vernagt glacier near Vent has been the subject of international research since 1600 and is therefore the best-documented glacier in the Eastern Alps (“cradle of glacier research”).
  • The oldest illustration of a glacier in the world, which dates back to 1601, is a watercolor painting of the Vernagt glacier.
  • The famous Gurgler glacier near Obergurgl served as a “life-saver” for Professor Auguste Piccard, who in 1931 made an emergency landing after flying up to the stratosphere. This also served as the birth of tourism in Obergurgl.
  • The tallest mountain in Tyrol, the Ötztaler Wildspitze (3,768 m) is the highest glaciated peak in the Ötztal Nature Park.
  • Glaciers are the fresh water reserves in the Ötz valley.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), a global association of climatologists, and international environmental organizations are expecting climate change to speed up and cause the rise of global mean temperatures between 1,5 and 5°C. As a result the Alps would become ice-free and permafrost (permanently frozen soil, amounting to about 5% of the Alps) would melt. The commission for glaciology of the Bavarian Academy of Science has stated in recent studies, that on a warm summer’s day, the amount of water melting at the Vernagt glacier (Ötz valley/Vent) would provide enough drinking water for the entire city of Munich for one day. In 2003, a new record for glacial melting was observed. The yearly amount of melting water from the “ice-monster” would be enough to supply Munich with water for a whole year.