Kaunertal valley, Austria

Kaunertal Valley in western Austria is experiencing glacier retreat and the southern part of the valley the ‘Gepatschferner’ glacier is one of the fastest melting glaciers in Austria. This glacier retreat leaves unconsolidated sediments in steep lateral moraines exposed to erosion and subsequently rock fall, debris flows, and shallow landslides decreasing the slope stability in the proglacial.

These sediment dynamics have negative effects on important infrastructure such as roads, settlements and the Gepatsch reservoir securing electricity availability for the region. The Kaunertal pro glacial area will serve as a concept case where climatic changes such as the increase in frequency and severity of extreme events impose strong threats to the region. In an interdisciplinary effort between geomorphologists and ecologists, the stabilizing effect of vegetation and the growth-promoting effects of bacteria to specifically enhance plant traits that most strongly contribute to slope stability will be demonstrated.

Local companies that established methods to revegetate steep slopes with ‘hydro seeding’ or ‘spray cover’ grasses on mountain pastures after the skiing season will be valuable partners to evaluate the feasibility of and implement the solution on the steep lateral moraines in the Kaunertal.

Laboratory experiments (left) and vegetation plots (right) to test bacteria-assisted vegetation cover to stabilise slope in areas of glacier retreat above the timberline.