Virtual Observatory of the Alps

Linking the high altitude research stations in the Alps

Environmental Research Station Schneefernerhaus

Main topic II


Alpine Environment: Hazards and Risks

The Alpine region is for inhabitants as well as for tourists a living space and a recreation area. But dramatic changes of the environmental conditions due to climate change have a stronger effect in the Alpine region than in the lowland. The decrease of permafrost areas with its wide-ranging consequences on the water balance and the stability of the mountains as well as the increase in extreme weather events affect the quality of life, especially health and the everyday life of the people, who live in those areas. Changes in climatic variables like temperature, humidity, air pressure and radiation can impair respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, changes in vegetation can lead to even more health problems. Earlier and long-lasting flowering periods with allergenic pollen in the air but also the spread of introduced plants like Ambrosia artemisiifolia can facilitate the development of allergies.

The aim of this main topic is to register the impact of climate change in this high-alpine region on the bio- and geosphere as well as to constitute the consequences for human health. Moreover, the scientists intend to evaluate the impact of suddenly occurring solar eruptions on cosmic radiation in the Alpine region. For instance, solar eruption could influence the magneto- and ionosphere and therefore interfere with global, electronic communication.


TPII/01: Climate change and seasonality - Changes in season-realted cycles and extremes in atmosphere and biosphere at alpine observatories (UFS Schneefernerhaus/ Zugspitze and Sonnblick)

TPII/02: Impact of environmental parameters and soliar eruption on cosmin radiation in the Alpine region

TPII/03: Consequences of climate change to patients and tourists

TPII/01: Climate cahgen and seasonality - Changes in season-related cycles and extremes in atmophere and biosphere at alpine observatories (UFS Schneefernerhaus/Zugspitzgebiet and Sonnblick)

 The aim of this subproject is to analyze the consequences of climate change to vital rhythm of plants. Based on the two observatories Schneefernerhaus (D) and Sonnblick (A) and in close cooperation between scientists of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) and the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC), the question of how seasonality of the flora in the Alps reflect in the atmospheric measurement data and satellite remote sensing products is addressed


Atmospheric CO2-Concentration

Atmospheric CO2-concentration and vegetation contribute to the carbon balance in the atmosphere above central Europe. By means of different analyzing methods like source-receptor-interactions, re-analysis and remote sensing products, the scientists want to explain the seasonal and short-term fluctuations in CO2 measurement series of both observatories Schneefernerhaus and Sonnblick. These amplitudes basically depend on seasonal activity of vegetation and the transport of air masses.

Vegetation period

The duration of the vegetation period is a key indicator for ecosystems and the exchange between atmosphere and biosphere. Its changes can be registered by biotic (for instance seasonal appearance of plants) and abiotic indicators (for instance duration of frost-free periods). Additionally, webcams and remote sensing products help to determine variations in the vegetation period in the course of climate change. The aim is to get a cheap tool, to document and analyze the monitoring of vegetation continuously and objectively. Especially the analysis of extreme values in measurement data and their impact on vegetation is thereby interesting. All data will be provided for the scientific community via the “Alpine Environmental Data Analysis Centre" (AlpEnDAC)


TPII/02:Impact of environmental parameter and solar eruption on cosmic radiation in the Alpine region

Strong gas eruptions on the sun can result in substantial consequences on the environment. During such events, the sun emits charged particles like protons. Those particles produce multiple “secondary” particles like neutrons due to interactions with elements (like nitrogen and oxygen) in the atmosphere, when they reach the earth. Therefore, especially in the alpine altitudes this can result in a significant increase in the radiation dose. Because solar eruptions can not be forecasted, an evaluation of additional radiation dose can just be performed after such an event. The aim of this subproject is to measure the dose and energy distribution of secondary neutrons after solar eruption in the Alpine region and to determine its dependence on environmental parameter


Evidence of secondary neutrons of cosmic radiation

The Helmholtz Zentrum Munich operates at the UFS and the Koldewey station of the Alfred Wegener Institute at Spitzbergen a Bonner Vielkugelspektrometer (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Bonner Vielkugelspektometer at the UFS


By means of this instrument it is possible to measure the energy of neutrons in a wide energy range. At the UFS and the Koldewey station it is used to continuously monitor the secondary neutrons, which are mentioned above and are produced by cosmic radiation in the atmosphere and to measure their fluctuations in intensity and energy. Because both spectrometers have been in operation for several years, it could be demonstrated that environmental parameters like soil humidity, precipitates and snow cover, which can alter in course of climate change, have an influence on the energy spectrum. For instance heavy snowfall results in a decrease in numbers of neutrons. During the thawing of snow, the number of particles increases with equivalent seasonal variations in radiation dose (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Long-term trend (example) of the relative monthly dose (H*(10)) by neutrons of secondary cosmic radiation at the UFS.


To analyze the influences in greater detail, scientists try to simulate weather-related changes at the UFS and determine their influence on the energy spectrum of neutrons. To have comparable results, also simulation at the Jungfraujoch and Gornergrat in Switzerland are performed with a transportable Vielkugelspektrometer in the framework of this subproject. The measured neutrons of the cosmic radiation are compared to the measurement results of the neutron monitors, which are operating there.


TPII/03: Consequences of climate change to patients and tourists

On the one hand, the Alps are well suited for health tourism due to their climatic conditions and the altitude. But on the other hand, climate change is especially sensible in this region. The resulting change in problems with allergies is especially for children a big issue. But also the increase of air pollutants and a strong switch of the weather conditions is a huge problem, especially for older people and pneumonia patients. The aim of this subproject is to analyze how climate change affects the Alps as a touristic – especially health touristic – destination.

In close cooperation scientists of the geography and medicine department of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich document and analyze the impact of climate change in the Alpine region on health-motivated tourists and patients in institutions with healthy climate in consideration of previous illness. The focus is on pulmonary diseases and allergies, which are strongly influenced by changes of the climate.


Survey of tourists and patients in the target area

To study the impact of climate change on the travel decision of tourists and patients, for which health issues play an important role, surveys are conducted by researchers at representative locations within the Alpine target regions. Besides the interrogation of general data like age, marital status and previous illness, the main focus of the questionnaire is on the health-related travel decision, the image of the region with regard to touristic-medical aspects and the subjective improvement of health during the residence in the Alpine region. The interviews are conducted in two selected touristic regions as well as at two clinics in the Alpine region in each case over a longer period of time. Touristic target regions are thereby Garmisch-Partenkirchen as an example for the northern Alps as well as Meran as an example for the Southern Alps. Medical surveys are performed in the clinics in Bad Reichenhall and Davos. In parallel, the scientists perform expert discussions with different tourism service providers, to get information about marketing, target groups, changes due to climate change and resulting adaptation strategies. Thus an impression about the consequences of climate change in the Alpine region on the tourism and institutes with healthy climate is created. There are first references of changes in travel behavior due to environmental changes like thermal stress.

Contact TP II / 01
Prof. Dr. Annette Menzel
Tel. +49 8161 714-740
Fax +49 8161 714-753

Contact TP II / 02
Prof. Dr. Werner Rühm
Helmholtz Zentrum München
Tel. +49 89 3187-2460
Fax +49 89 3187-3323

Contact TP II / 03
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schmude
Abb 1: Bonner Vielkugelspektometer auf der UFS
Bonner spectrometer
Abb 2: Langzeittrend (Beispiel) der relativen monatlichen Dosis (H*(10)) durch Neutronen der sekundären kosmischen Strahlung auf der UFS.
Trend of (H*(10)) neutron dosis from secondary cosmic radiation at the station.