Alpine glaciers and their role in the Earth system

Mountain glaciers are sensitive climate indicators because they respond to temperature and precipitation changes on time scales similar to those of climate change. Even small temperature changes can lead to substantial changes in glacier length and volume. Therefore, glaciers are early warning systems for global warming trends.
Furthermore, glacier act as water reservoirs and affect local ecosystems and human habitat. During hot and dry summers, for example, glaciers provide more water through increased melting, thus balancing the water level in rivers.
The main focus of our research group is on mountain glaciers and their interaction with the environment. Similar questions are also studied for glaciers in polar regions. In the Alps, investigations concentrate on the German glaciers and on Vernagtferner in the Ötztal valley in Austria.
International working areas include Norwegian glaciers and ice caps as well as glaciers from the Pamir mountains to the Himalayas in Asia. In the polar regions, current research addresses the stability of ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland and their influence on mass loss of the large ice sheets.

Research questions

  • How do glaciers respond to present and future climate changes?
  • How do local factors and climatic changes work together to affect glacier behaviour?
  • How do specific phenomena affect the temporal evolution of glaciers, e. g. how large is the influence of debris cover on the glacier surface on ice melt?
  • Which key parameters have the largest impact on the reaction of glaciers caused by climatic changes?


  • Geodetic and glaciological on-site measurements to document recent glacier mass changes
  • Analysis of optical and radar satellite data to determine ice flow velocities and elevation changes of glaciers
  • Numerical modelling of the ice dynamics of glaciers and its dependence on environmental factors
  • Combination of observations and numerical modelling – application of advanced data assimilation techniques

Responsible persons

Dr. Christoph Mayer, Geodesy and Glaciology, Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Munich

Dr. Martin Rückamp, Geodesy and Glaciology, Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Munich

Dr.-Ing. Anja Wendt, Geodesy and Glaciology, Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Munich

Projects with our participation

Climate sensitivity of western Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves (CSAPIS)

(since 2022)

Constraining paleo-dynamics and sediment transport of Antarctic stream flow across grounding lines – from source to sink


Greenland Ice sheet/Ocean interaction (GROCE II)

Cooperation with Prof. Angelika Humbert (AWI)