The SLF collects information on snow, natural hazards, permafrost and mountain ecosystems at many locations in Switzerland over the long term. In some cases, the data series are over 70 years old and offer valuable insights into risks or past and future changes.
Long-term environmental monitoring is the only way in which gradual (and therefore often imperceptible) developments can be identified and complex relationships uncovered. Decades' worth of measurement data are required in order to understand, for example, the consequences that climate change is having on snowpack, biodiversity and the frequency of natural hazards.
Environmental monitoring is one of our core areas of expertise. This involves observation and surveying only; we do not intervene in natural processes. We analyse the extensive data gathered and calculate past developments from it or use models to calculate possible trends for the future.
Monitoring projects require perseverance and many hours of work. For example,in winter, we record the fresh snowfall and snow depths at numerous stations (fig. 1) each day. We have been doing this for over 70 years at the Weissfluhjoch station in Davos. We also investigate whether and how the permafrost is changing in over 20 wells in the Swiss Alps.
Monitoring provides valuable basic information for practitioners such as ski lift operators and safety professionals, as well as for authorities, the government and scientists. That is why we are committed to making our data easily accessible to interested groups.
Since 2022, the SLF has been the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) world-leading competence centre for snow monitoring. Researchers at the SLF have access to a high-quality measuring infrastructure, which, together with measurement instruments and methods, has been continuously developed over more than 80 years. A well-known example is the Weissfluhjoch test site (2536 m above sea level): The SLF has been recording snow data there both manually and automatically since 1936. A wide variety of methods were tested on the test site and are now in operational use. The aim of snow observation is to obtain snow data even more precisely and efficiently and to make it usable in practice.