Permafrost and natural hazards

When permafrost thaws due to atmospheric warming, natural hazards such as rockfalls and debris flows increase in the high mountains. With our research in the field, with simulations and with experiments in the laboratory, we contribute to increasing the protection of the population against possible dangers.

We investigate how climate change affects different types of terrain such as scree slopes, rock glaciers and rock faces. To do this, we measure the temperature and ice content of the soil as well as the type and speed of slope movements using various measuring systems from the fields of geodesy (surveying), geotechnics and geophysics.

We use these data in the laboratory and in computer models to estimate how changes in the soil affect the stability of a slope and how permafrost will change in the future.

Permafrost and mass movements

Permafrost can influence the frequency of debris flows and rockfalls. If rock glaciers and rock faces become warmer, more water can penetrate them. As a result, rock glaciers move faster and transport more material into stream channels, increasing the risk of debris flows. In the case of rock faces, the water changes the properties of the rock and causes a loss of friction as well as increasing water pressure in the rock crevices. This weakens the rock slopes and can cause the rock to move. In extreme cases, a landslide occurs. We work closely with the cantonal safety officers and share our findings with them.

Research group


If glaciers melt and permafrost thaw as a result of global warming, natural hazards will increase in the Alps.