New lakes in de-glaciating high-mountain areas: climate-related development and challenges for sustainable use


Realistic climate scenarios predict that glaciers will, to a large extent, disappear from the Alps during the 21st century. In high-mountain areas, glaciers are already rapidly disappearing today. This results in numerous new lakes which can be attractive for tourism, useful for the production of hydroelectric power, of interest for flood protection and valuable to landscape and water protection. However, because the stability of their environment is diminished, these lakes also constitute a hazard which needs to be taken seriously. Dealing with this combination of opportunities and risks is a scientific but also an economic and political challenge.


A foundation for the assessment of future opportunities and risks associated with the new lakes will be created. Questions such as deglaciation, landscape development, the behaviour of the lakes and the appearance of hazards such as flash floods and mudflows will be treated. Hydraulic engineering aspects such as storage capacity and hydroelectric potential of the lakes, protection measures against floods, the influence of bed load volume as well as ecological aspects will also be examined. In the region of the Rhône glacier or the Bernina massif for example, the researchers will examine how the lakes are perceived, what enhanced value they might have for tourism, what costs are to be expected and what benefits these lakes might bring about. Legal questions pertaining to property, responsibility and liability as well as water rights and landscape and water protection will also be clarified. The views of political authorities, hydroelectric power companies as well as nature and landscape organizations will be integrated by means of workshops.


The project will build a basis for an optimized, diverse and sustainable use of new lakes in high mountain regions and will describe possible protective measures. It will launch and facilitate a systematic and long-term planning process. This is particularly important because the concessions for hydroelectric power production will expire in the coming decades and will need to be renewed. The methods and results from this project will also be made available to other mountainous regions.

Alps, risks. sustainable use
2010 – 2013
  • Swiss National Science Foundation
  • UNISCIENTIA Stiftung within the framework of the National Research Programme 61 on sustainable water management
  • FIF - University of Bern
  • LCH - École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
  • Anwaltsbüro Bergrecht
  • Nussbaumer, S., Schaub, Y., Huggel, C., Walz, A. Risk estimation for future glacier lake outburst floods based on local land-use changes Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. | VOL 14 | 2014
  • Schaub, Y., Haeberli, W., Huggel, C., Künzler, M., Bründl, M. Landslides and New Lakes in Deglaciating Areas: A Risk Management Framework The Second Landslide Forum | 2013