The first consistent inventory of rock glaciers and their hydrological catchments of the Austrian Alps

  • 1 Institute of Earth Sciences, NAWI Graz Geocenter, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
  • 2 , Saline, Austria
  • 3 Department of Geography and Regional Science, Working Group on Alpine Landscape Dynamics (ALADYN), University of Graz, Graz, Austria
  • 4 Institute of Geology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 5 Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism, , Vienna, Austria
  • 6 , Innsbruck, Austria


A first consistent and homogenized polygon-based inventory of rock glaciers of the Austrian Alps is presented. Compiling previous inventories and updating them by using digital elevation models (1 m grid resolution) derived from airborne laser scanning yield a dataset of 5769 rock glaciers in a ca. 48400 km2 large area. A consistent methodological approach for assigning attributes, stored in a detailed attribute table, was developed and applied here to improve comparability and reproducibility. The majority (60 %) of the studied landforms is considered to be relict (no permafrost); the remaining 40 % may still contain permafrost ice and are thus classified as intact. Rock glaciers range in elevation from 476 to 3312 m a.s.l. and cover a total area of 303 km2. The distribution of rock glaciers is mainly related to the topography of the Austrian Alps and related effects such as past glaciation history.

In addition, a comprehensive analysis of the hydrological catchment areas of all individual rock glaciers was carried out. A hydrological catchment analysis in rock glacier areas is of great interest for sustainable water management issues in alpine catchments as these landforms represent shallow aquifer systems with a relatively high storage and thus buffer capability, especially in crystalline bedrock areas. A total area of almost 1280 km2 is drained through rock glaciers.

The presented rock glacier and rock glacier catchment inventories provide an important basis for further research, particularly for a better understanding of the hydrogeology and geomorphology of alpine catchments and their potential alteration in the light of climate change, but also in terms of paleoglaciation and deglaciation in the Alpine Lateglacial to Holocene period. As such, the inventories are seen as an important base to stimulate further research.

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