A fever thermometer inside the mountain
Since 2010, surface and underground structures as well as atmosphere have been analyzed within the framework of a systematic monitoring process. Permanent temperature probes were installed deep inside the mountain like fever thermometers and inform the research team of changes. Ingo Hartmeyer explains: "Permafrost acts like glue in mountains. It holds together gravel like cement. If it starts to melt due to rising temperatures in summer, the ground becomes prone to instability. The Kitzsteinhorn is one of two locations in Austria where thawing of the active layer is monitored." Rock movement is also tracked on the surface with the help of a laser scanner. Markus Keuschnig emphasizes: "The rockfall monitoring that’s conducted here is probably world's most comprehensive one in the high-alpine field. We've seen activity especially in the area of the glacier margins, which have been exposed due to thawing of the Schmiedingerkees glacier. Besides rock slope stability and permafrost, we're also focusing our monitoring on the glacier. We measure ice thickness and surface using GPR and regular drone flights. That makes the Schmiedingerkees glacier one of very few in Austria whose volume can be determined precisely."
Equipped for future challenges
What's also unique in the field of geomorphology is a research project funded by a private company. After the project had ended in 2017, Norbert Karlsboeck knew research would have to continue long-term; therefore, the Gletscherbahnen Kaprun has funded the Open-Air Lab entirely ever since. Karlsboeck explains: "We know high-mountain regions will face huge challenges in the next years. Long-term measurements in our open-air lab provide us with a reliable data basis that allows us to better plan future projects. Right now, we're creating a sort of early warning system with wireless transmission of measuring points to a central hub, which will eventually provide timely alert as soon as movement is detected."