The glacier measurement service of the Austrian Alpine Association (ÖAV) presented current data on the situation of 92 examined glaciers. Five glaciers have not changed in length - but appearances are deceptive.

The 2018/19 glacier budget year can again be characterized as very unfavorable to glaciers and fits seamlessly into a long period of extremely unfavorable conditions - this is an effect of the prevailing climate change. The two heads of the Alpine Club Glacier Measurement Service, Gerhard Lieb and Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer from the Institute for Geography and Spatial Research at the University of Graz, summarize the current results of the glacier report.

"A total of 24 glacier knives with around 50 accompanying persons were on the road between mid-August and the end of October 2019 to take length measurements of numerous local 'ice giants' for the 2018/19 glacier report."

Gerhard Lieb from the Institute of Geography and Spatial Research

For 2018/19, the ÖAV glacier measurement service has information from 92 glaciers. Measured values ​​are available for 84 of these 92 glaciers, and photo comparisons have been made for the remaining eight.

5 glaciers remained the same - 86 glaciers became smaller

86 of the 92 glaciers examined were in retreat. According to the results, five glaciers examined remained stationary - they changed in length by less than +/- 1 meter - one even showed a slight advance. The mean withdrawal amount of the 84 glaciers measured in 2018 and 2019 was -14,3 meters, which was below the previous year's value of -17,2 meters (calculated for 76 glaciers) and very clearly below the extreme value of 2016/17 -25,2 meters (75 glaciers). 

The appearance is deceptive

The fact that five glaciers have practically not changed and one has even advanced slightly can be seen as a special feature. But the glaciers' tendency to retreat, which had been going on for decades, was by no means slowed down. In most cases, the ends of these glaciers lay under old snow from the previous winter - which protected the ice somewhat - but local topographical conditions at the edge of the ice also explain these apparently favorable values ​​for the glacier.

"With the only advancing glacier, there was not really an active advance of the ice masses - more of a 'forward tilting' of the ice edge was documented."

According to the two heads of the Alpine Club Glacier Measurement Service, it is by no means an active advancement of the glaciers in question due to favorable conditions. Appearance is therefore deceptive.

"The glaciers seem sunken, you can often see that they are poorly nourished from a glacier point of view."

The measurement reports contain formulations such as "draining rock steps", "progressive ice decay", "increasing rubble cover" or "ice broken in clods". Glacier knives also reported that alpine road conditions have deteriorated significantly due to the glacier shrinkage.

Conditions in the east more favorable to glaciers

It should be emphasized that all of the stationary glaciers are in the Hohe Tauern. "This is also a signal that the conditions in the east of the Austrian Alps were a little more favorable to glaciers than in the west," explains Gerhard Lieb.

"The only glacier in the making, the Maurerkees in the Glockner Group southwest of the famous Kitzsteinhorn, is in the Hohe Tauern."

Gerhard Lieb

Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer adds: "It is noticeable that all stationary glaciers are not relatively close to one another, but are distributed across the entire Hohe Tauern."

In large parts of the Austrian Alps, the winter 2018/19 was above average precipitation. According to Kellerer-Pirklbauer, the month of May 2019 was around three degrees too cold, followed by the warmest June in the entire history of the measurement: this month it was four degrees too warm. "The annual average was 1,1 warmer than the average - this was not a good thing for the glaciers."

Glacier knife at work on a glacier table on the Guslarferner (Ötztal Alps) in summer 2019 (Photo: M. Stocker-Waldhuber)

The Bärenkopfkees fell by almost 90 meters

The strongest decline was measured at -86,9 meters on the Bärenkopfkees (Glockner Group, Salzburg), followed by -86,7 on the Ochsentaler Glacier (Silvretta Group, Vorarlberg) and on the Schweikertferner (Ötztal Alps, Tyrol) at -86,3 meters. 
For the compilation of this year's glacier report, 19 reports were received by the head of the glacier measurement service. The results were presented in the glacier report for 18 sub-areas, which are spread over 12 mountain groups.

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Credits: Text and picture ÖAV Gletschermessdienst