Variability of Groundwater Recharge and its Implication for Sustainable Land Use in Austria (RechAUT)

Responsible PI: Christine Stumpp (BOKU) christine.stumpp(at)

Project duration: 3 years

Water is the natural foundation of life and essential for agricultural production and drinking water supply. In the past, the focus in protecting water resources has been on the assessment of the quantitative and chemical status of surface water and groundwater bodies. However, an essential part of the global water cycle making up some of the largest freshwater resources has received little attention: water in the vadose zone. Climate and land use change are known to alter water fluxes in the vadose zone, and thus groundwater recharge rates. Despite the fact that any change of groundwater recharge would have dramatic impacts on the availability of water, and hence severe economic and ecological consequences, we know little about groundwater recharge rates for Austria. One of the reasons is that it cannot be measured directly, and predictions of hydrological models mainly rely on model assumptions simplifying the physically based processes in soil hydrology, either due to limited computational time, unsolved issues with upscaling local process information or lack of data on soil hydraulic properties. Moreover, uncertainties with model calibration are poorly understood requiring, however, the analysis of long-term data sets for improving estimations and finally being able to assess the impact of climate change on the availability of water resources. Therefore, this project tackles one of the most challenging problems with water availability in mountain regions: prediction of the variability and associated uncertainties of groundwater recharge and its implication for sustainable land use. The aim of this study is to quantify and predict groundwater recharge rates, their variability and uncertainties and the potential impacts for land use and water management in Austria. To address this aim this project will

(1) make use of the existing long-term monitoring infrastructure with soil water monitoring data for up to 20 years at 14 locations in Austria,
(2) develop and apply new calibration and validation procedures for estimation of soil hydraulic properties and groundwater recharge rates and associated uncertainties for the local scales,
(3) upscale the local information by its implementation into regional hydrological and integrated bio-physical, economic model approaches and testing the improvement of implementation by analysing the model uncertainties, and
(4) assess implications of climate and socio-economic drivers on water availability, land use and crop production. The outcomes are a set of scientifically based mathematical models on different scales for simulation of water fluxes and soil water balance, maps giving information on groundwater recharge rates including their uncertainties for current and future climate conditions, and integrated land-water management guidelines to provide policy advice on sustainable utilization and management of soil water resources in the context of global change. Based on these outcomes, we will identify areas with potential conflicts in water availability for agricultural production or areas with reduced groundwater recharge rates requiring a more sustainable management of groundwater resources and irrigation. Further, this project will identify regions with changes in the availability of water as a resource and provide solutions on water management for reducing potential conflicts over water use in future.

Novel assessment and modeling of flow/storage domains in karst groundwater regimes (FLOWCAST)

Responsible PI: Arnulf Schiller (Geologische Bundesanstalt) arnulf.schiller(at)

Project duration: 3 years

15% of the world´s freshwater resources are hosted by karst groundwater regimes of different types. Sustainable and efficient freshwater management requires detailed information about capacity, dynamics, endangerment and resilience of these freshwater resources. This is done by numerical modeling based upon a variety of approaches. Common to all these models is the quality of their results depending directly on the quality of measured input data. Geophysical methods provide significant input data. From former projects, indication emerged electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) and airborne electromagnetics (AEM) exhibiting specific sensitivity to different domains of karst porosity and conduits: The non-contact EM method excites all ions in the underground, predominantly concentrated in water while ERT currents are lead well by conduits, medium by interconnected pores, and worst by weakly connected matrix pores. Hence, EM can deliver information about the total water distribution while ERT focuses more on connected or mobile groundwater. Investigating the potential and possible application of this idea as well as development of a numerically combined ERT/EM method – with adapted hardware and data processing components are the main goals of the proposed project. Central work component addresses numerical modelling/simulation/joint inversion modules. Here modelling and inversion schemes are being combined for delivering information about different groundwater flow domains. For testing and realizing the method in field hardware development is required. Main task concerns the study and design of a semi-airborne electromagnetic method with transmitter on ground and receiver borne by a drone (UAV-EM). This would realize a light airborne method independent from helicopters and thus saving logistics and administration effort. i.e. costs. The methods will be tested at two test sites in Austria (Leithagebirge, Villacher Alpe), one test site with specifically simple and well studied hydrogeology in Mexico (Tulum) and one site in the Jura mountains/Switzerland. The works at the Mexican test site will also be supported by a citizen science campaign involving pupils and divers for acquisition of groundwater and halocline level data. The project integrates ideal expertise in a well-established, multidisciplinary consortium: Geological Survey of Austria - applied geophysics, hardware development, forward modeling, data base; University of Neuchatel/Switzerland - karst groundwater modelling; KIGAM/South Korea - inverse problems, data processing; Airborne Robotics, Wolf Technologie, Liftoff - hardware development, economic exploitation; Amigos de Sian Ka’an - modeling, social/citizen science. In case of success, additional crucial information about karst groundwater domains can be retrieved improving numerical modelling and thus enabling significant advancements in characterization of structure, dynamics, capacity and sensitivity of karst groundwater resources in mountainous as well as basin or coastal regions worldwide. This principal goal also complies well with programes like Future Earth, IGCP, MAB.

Pulling the plug - Restoration of Lake Sulzkarsee (Styria, Austria), an alpine lake degraded by fish introduction (Pulling the plug - Restoration of an alpine lake)

Responsible PI: Robert Schabetsberger (Universität Salzburg) robert.schabetsberger(at)

Project duration: 3 years

Sulzkarsee is the only high-altitude lake in the National Park Gesäuse (Styria, Austria) and is severely degraded by fish (minnows, Phoxinus phoxinus) introduced almost half a century ago. It was known for containing large numbers of amphibians before stocking. We propose to eradicate minnows through intensive fishing followed by lake drainage through powerful pumps. Minnows will be returned to the lake of origin, where they disappeared in the 1980s. A team of national park managers, ecologists, a herpetologist, palaeo-limnologists, palynologists, sedimentologists, an archaeologist, a school teacher, students and the general public will work together to describe past conditions of the lake prior to fish stocking and to document the recovery of the ecosystem after removal of alien fish. This study may serve as an example for future management of other high-altitude lakes degraded by fish introduction as a cost effective alternative to intensive gill netting. An international TV documentary on the detrimental effects of alien predators in alpine lakes and the recovery after removal of fish will be produced. School children and the general public will be involved to sustainably anchor this drastic restoration effort in the local community.   

Snow to Rain: From phase transition of precipitation to changing local livelihoods, emotions and affects in East Greenland (Snow2Rain)

Responsible PI: Wolfgang Schöner (Universität Graz) wolfgang.schoener(at)

Project duration: 3 years

Snow, ice and water from their melt are not only physical phenomena, but build also the foundation of life, culture and sociality in the Arctic.  In particular, snow plays a central role in the cultures of indigenous Arctic people, e.g. for the reindeer herders of Eurasia which have developed a holistic snow terminology (integrating the effects on the ecology, grazing opportunities, and management of the herd). This holistic terminology clearly differs from scientific standard terms. However, the combination of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) with natural science snow observations and analysis captures high potential of synergies and will guide strategies for a sustainable future of Arctic people in a changing climate. TEK in general is recognized by the Arctic Council as an important source for better understanding the Arctic environment and its changes (Arctic-Council 1996). In recent years, the reindeer herders snow terminology and its relationship to natural science snow research have been subject to several studies. However, the potential to significantly increase the understanding of changing Arctic environment in East-Greenland in the framework of an interdisciplinary study based on the TEK of Greenlandic Arctic people for snow and ice together with social anthropology and (natural science) climatology approaches was not explored until today. Such an approach appears particular promising for the East Greenlandic region (Ammassalik/Tasiilaq region) where indigenous people are much more connected with traditional live (hunting, dog-sledging, fishing, ancient traditional customs) than elsewhere and with an only slowly growing tourism, meaning that there live and TEK is much more connected to nature and its challenges, such as weather, snow, ice and related changes over time and space. This is the general objective of Snow2Rain project.

Impact of extreme events on the quantity and quality of groundwater in alpine regions – multiple-index application for an integrative hydrogeo-ecologocal assessment (Integrative Groundwater Assessment)

Responsible PI: Steffen Birk (Universität Graz) steffen.birk(at)

Project duration: 3 years

Freshwater ecosystems in mountain areas are considered important water resources and biodiversity hotspots that are highly sensitive to changes in climate. The Alpine region is known to be particularly affected by climate change, including changes in hydrological extremes such as droughts and floods, which are expected to become more frequent and intense in the future. Aquifers can mitigate the impacts of hydrological extremes, as their storage attenuates floods and sustains baseflow in times of drought. Yet, groundwater itself is vulnerable to hydrological extremes in terms of both quantity and quality. Despite the importance of groundwater as a primary water resource, climate change impacts on groundwater quality have been rarely addressed to date. Moreover, groundwater quality monitoring as currently operated focuses on physical-chemical indicators, whereas groundwater ecological features are still hardly considered.

Against this background, our project addresses the following overarching research question: How do groundwater systems in an alpine and prealpine environment respond to extreme hydrological events such as droughts, heavy rain and floods in terms of water quantity and chemical quality as well as ecological status?

To address this question four field sites within the Mur valley (Styria, Austria) comprising alpine and prealpine areas, different type of hydrogeological settings and different human impacts have been selected for targeted investigation.

Long-term and event-based monitoring data will be used to evalute the effects of extreme events on groundwater hydrological, hydrochemical and ecological status. Both short-term responses to hydrological extremes and long-term trends will be examined with regard to differences between the Alpine region and the foreland as well as between different types of hydrogeological settings and related to human impacts. To advance the current understanding of the interrelation of groundwater quantity and quality responses to hydrometerological extremes, correlations between hydrological, hydrochemical and ecological trends and responses will be disentangled and causal relationships and key drivers identified using methods of time series analysis and multivariate statistics. In addition to providing improved scientific understanding of the interrelation of short-term effects and long-term trends in groundwater quantity and quality, this project aims to establish the foundation of an integrative hydrogeo-ecological assessment of alpine and prealpine groundwater systems. It is thus intended to continue selected assessment and monitoring activities initiated in this project in close collaboration with non-scientific actors from the relevant regional authorities. To this end, indicators that turn out sensitive and useful for evaluating and monitoring the effects of climate change on groundwater quantity and quality will be directly validated and implemented. As the suitability of these indicators depends on the science or policy questions to be addressed, it is intended from the beginning to integrate a broad range of stakeholders in this process and to connect to similar efforts in other European countries.

Climate and Cryosphere Change Impacts and High Mountain Soil Development  - Producing Transformation Knowledge, Transforming System Knowledge Production (CryoSoil_TRANSFORM)

Responsible PI: Clemens Geitner (Universität Innsbruck) clemens.geitner(at)

Project duration: 3 years

In 1997, the UN-General Assembly on the Evaluation of Agenda 21 highlighted five global functions of mountains amongst which are their roles as water towers for an increasing world population as well as highly sensitive and thus perfect indicators for global climate and environmental change impacts. Due to the fact that in mountain areas ecological and socio-cultural conditions change within short horizontal and vertical distances, mountain systems are highly vulnerable to environmental changes in general climate change impacts in specific. As a consequence, climate change impacts cause intense and multiple reactions in mountain environments among which the consequences on the elements of the cryosphere, and subsequently, the pedosphere and biosphere may be most drastic and thus are best visible.

Against this background, CryoSoil_TRANSFORM aims at three overall objectives (applied in two research areas, i.e. Kaunertal and Martelltal):

1. Creating science driven natural environment system knowledge by an interdisciplinary approach

Climate change driven melting of ice, both from glaciers and permafrost bodies, provides new terrain for soil formation and the consequent development of vegetation. Based on a spatio-temporally high-resoluted reconstruction of the glacier and permafrost history since the mid-19th century, soil formation and thus resulting distribution patterns are investigated. As in this context, soil is understood as fundamental link between climate change and vegetation development the project provides system knowledge for a better understanding of high mountain ecosystems.

2. Creating target and value oriented transformation know-ledge by a transdisciplinary approach

In order to overcome Global Grand Challenges in general and Climate Change in specific, education programmes play a key role. As high mountain environments are perfect for visualising and experiencing the consequences of climate change on the cryo-, pedo- and biosphere, they contribute markedly to enhancing awareness and willingness to act among participants of education for sustainable development and climate change education programmes. Based on the successful programme k.i.d.Z.21-Austria, new formats and settings will be devoped  in transdisciplinary dialogues with local stakeholders, teachers and students according to the objectives of the Austrian Climate and Energie Strategy, thus follwoing the ideas of responsible science .

3. Creating society driven human-environment system knowledge

In a citizen science approach, transformation knowledge (objective 2) will be combined with natural environmental system knowledge (objective 1) to a novel kind of system knowledge on the human-environment system. Herein, the anthroposhere side is represented by societal demands within the context of regional challenges and future oriented sustainable development following normative principles.

AgroClim Huaraz: Spatio-temporal variability in water availability and demand in the Peruvian Andes (AgroClim Huaraz)

Responsible PI: Fabien Maussion (Universität Innsbruck) fabien.maussion(at)

Project duration: 3 years

In the complex topography of the semi-arid Peruvian Andes, the strong gradients of temperature and precipitation have shaped the local agriculture. Recent climate change, which coincides with increasing food and water demand from the expanding cities, has transformed and challenged the small-scale subsidence farming. In order to develop efficient adaptation strategies, it is crucial to (1) better quantify the recent variability and change of climate variables relevant for rain-fed agriculture, and (2) identify the most resilient crops and agricultural methods for present and expected near-future climate conditions.

In this project, we will follow a transdisciplinary strategy combining atmospheric and crop modelling with in-situ and remote sensing observations, as well as interactions with local farmers and scientists. We aim to merge these data and methods to identify the main vulnerabilities of today’s farming practices and develop a model framework that can be used to address agroclimatic research questions in the region. This tool will form the scientific basis for a series of practical recommendations oriented towards local stakeholders and communities.

Our study area will span a west-east transect from the Cordillera Negra to the Cordillera Blanca at the latitude of the city of Huaraz (9° 32’S). Our team, originating from various countries and backgrounds, is joined by a strong network of international collaborations and by a team of Peruvian scientists, field workers and farmers. Our results will be disseminated via our project website (, scientific publications, and capacity building trainings and workshops.

Understanding of Extreme Climatological Impacts in Populated Alpine Areas (EXTRIG)

Responsible PI: Daniel Elster (Geologische Bundesanstalt) daniel.elster(at)

Project duration: 3 years

In order to understand the hydrogeological processes that follow extreme climatic events (e.g. flooding, drought, heavy precipitation and fast snow melt), the hydrologic conditions and geologic realities need to be understood. Therefore it is necessary to model the given setting as close to reality as possible. The creation of a comprehensive hydrogeological model of an alpine catchment is consequently crucially linked to the availability of a comprehensive set of multi-disciplinary, high quality data, which, in most cases, are not available.

EXTRIG wants to contribute to this challenge by applying an innovative interdisciplinary approach, based on a cooperation between geologists, meteorologists, climate experts, hydrologists and geophysicists, EXTRIG will built up a 4D dynamic model of a typical Alpine catchment. EXTRIG will focus on hydrogeological and climatological conditions on the catchment scale to gain in-depth understanding about hydrogeological systems related to creeping landslides in Alpine regions. Fundamental requirements to tackle this challenge are in-depth quality and long term-series of hydrogeological and geophysical data. Therefore, advanced data sets, like data from geophysical and geotechnical monitoring and airborne geophysics will be integrated with rather traditional hydrogeological data of to derive a new quality of hazard understanding. This will allow EXTRIG scientists to understand underlying processes and interconnectivities in the light of climate change in a cutting edge quality and to evaluate which data sets are the most significant ones for applications to other areas.

Scientific results are expected to be innovative with regard to the development of new frameworks for transdisciplinary research, that integrate innovative research with citizen science and stakeholder engagement approaches; the collection, processing and provision of hydrological and landslide information in citizen science; the evaluation of knowledge co-production and citizen science packages.

Integrated Flood Risk Management in Mountain Areas: Assessing Sectoral Interdependencies, Conflicts and Options for Policy Coordination (POCO-FLOOD)

Responsible PI: Walter Seher (BOKU) walter.seher(at)

Project duration: 2,5 years

The project PoCo-FLOOD investigates the issue of policy coordination, which arises from the on-going paradigmatic shift in flood policies from flood defense to integrated flood risk management (IFRM). Specifically, the project explores interdependencies, conflicts and options for policy coordination between the sectors flood protection, hydropower (energy), agriculture and spatial planning. As these sectors play a fundamental role concerning both flood hazard prevention and flood risk mitigation in mountain areas, PoCo-FLOOD investigates the challenges and opportunities of policy coordination for these particular fields of interaction in three in-depth case studies. The first case, (“Flood Retention in the Headwaters”) focuses on hydropower dams in alpine catchments and the possibilities/limitations of coordinated policies to attenuate peak floods. The second case (“Flood Storage on Agricultural Land”) focuses on the growing need to provide agricultural areas for temporary flood storage and the possibilities/limitations of coordinated policies to provide upstream flood retention services for downstream beneficiaries. The third case (“Flood Protection and Land Development”) analyses the reciprocal relation between flood protection schemes and spatial planning policies and the possibilities/limitations of coordinated policies to mitigate the increase in damage potential in flood-protected areas.

Through the in-depth analysis of the three fields of interaction PoCo-FLOOD pursues the following objectives: (i) to improve the understanding of the sectoral interrelations, which arise from the shift towards IFRM;

(ii) to broaden the knowledge and evidence base concerning the limitations and the conflicts of interest of enhancing policy coherence in IFRM, and

(iii) to co-develop together with stakeholders and policy representatives options for coordinated flood policies. The project addresses these objectives through a combined research approach based on interdisciplinary research and stakeholder engagement (transdisciplinarity). The research team brings together five scientific disciplines of strong relevance for the proposed research topic (spatial planning and land rearrangement, hydrology and water management, agriculture, river morphology, and political science). Through a series of stakeholder workshops the project combines knowledge from various user domains with the aim of supporting policy-making and addresses the growing need for better integration of science and decision-making.

Climate response of alpine lakes: resistance variability and management consequences for ecosystem services (CLAIMES)

Responsible PI: Rainer Kurmayer (Universität Innsbruck) rainer.kurmayer(at)

Project duration: 3 years

Due to their pristine nature remote alpine lakes are considered most valuable. Up to date the ecosystem services (ES) of alpine lakes are poorly characterized. The central aim of this 3 years project is to find out how ongoing climate change affects the function of alpine lakes and in consequence the provision of ES requiring new management advices taking climate change into account. This topic is of relevance with regard to the general understanding that in consequence to global warming those alpine lakes might experience more intense use within the near + distant future. The study design takes advantage from long-term limnological monitoring of alpine lakes located in the Northern Alps as well as in the Southern Alps.

In a first step the variability of the response of these alpine lakes to global warming within the last two decades will be explored on a quantitative scale. Lake surface temperature (LST) reconstructions covering the previous decades will be validated by in situ temperature records from two decades earlier and also recorded during this project. Plankton and fish community will be analysed using modern metabarcoding techniques based on deep-amplicon sequencing. The observation period further will include data on limnological indicator organisms from sediment cores such as diatoms, chrysophytes and chironomids which have been analysed two decades ago and will now be reanalyzed for the same alpine lakes showing high variability in summer epilimnion temperature.

In a second step the ES will be quantitatively assessed for lake-types defined in relation to the UN sustainability developmental goals, such as accessibility, intensity of use or sensitivity to climate change. Provisioning and regulating ES (water provision/regulation) will be quantified using census data, data from limnological measurements as well as complex modelling approaches, whereas cultural ES (i.e. aesthetic value) will be based on crowd-sourced information such as geotagged photographs suitable to assess human preferences or by specific surveys based on questionnaires.  Socio-economic data (e.g. livestock feeding, fishing, tourism) will be collected. Validated LST models will allow for assessment of alpine lakes’ resistance towards disturbances which will affect the ability to maintain ES under potential impacts of climate change such as the IPCC “business as usual” scenario and the UN climate conference COP21 goal.

In a third step the ES provided by those lakes will be evaluated using multi criteria decision analysis (MCDA) comparing representative lakes of defined lake-types in both model regions. This will include (i) defining the most important ES through an experts' round table, (ii) a pair-wise questionnaire for ecosystem services weighing to be compiled by local stakeholders from various interest groups, (iii) Attribution of ES indicators and (iv) Performance of MCDA. The ES management under a scenario of climate change as described above will be addressed through comparative ES evaluation for the near and more distant future. Finaly policy recommendations to facilitate future ES management in order to guarantee sustainable ES provision will be elaborated and presented.

Changing debris cover on Eastern Alpine glaciers: Quantification and hydrological impacts (

Responsible PI: Kay Helfricht (IGF) kay.helfricht(at)

Project duration: 3 years

Climate observations as well as climate scenarios reveal a rise of temperatures around the globe, with almost twice the global rate in Austria. This temperature increase affects glacier and permafrost distribution in the Alps. Glacier retreat is the most visible manifestation of climate change in high mountain areas and has a significant impact on high mountain runoff. With glacier downwasting and increasing rock fall activity, debris depositions accumulate at current glacier tongues, which partly reduces ice ablation and favours ice storage beneath debris. In addition, this debris, once deposited in the proglacial area, can be assumed to be closely connected to transport in the stream system. In general, areas in the transition from glacial to non-glacial conditions are highly unstable and prone to erosion over a wide range of discharge, but particularly to export of sediments in case of heavy precipitation events.

The project serves to investigate the hydrological impact of supraglacial debris deposits in the transition zone from glacier ice to proglacial areas in Austria. First, the project will apply a nation-wide mapping of supraglacial debris and investigate hotspots of increasing debris cover. A detailed study of processes of debris deposition and renewed movement by fluvial transport will be performed at the LTER site Jamtalferner, combining hydrological modelling of the potential transport capacity of sediments in glacial streams, the analysis of grain size distribution on the glacier surface and in the proglacial area, and the calculation of sediment volume changes from UAV-based photogrammetry. Further, documentation of the historical evolution of the channel network will increase our knowledge of the temporal evolution of sediment-rich, proglacial zones.

The project makes use of ongoing improvements in the temporal and spatial resolution of remotely sensed data from different platforms (satellite, airborne, UAV-based). In particular, this study will expand the monitoring capabilities at the well-established LTER site Jamtalferner to build up long-term datasets.

Ecohydrology of mountain grassland under multiple global change: mechanisms and consequences  (ClimGrassHydro)

Responsible PI: Michael Bahn (Universität Innsbruck) michael.bahn(at)

Project duration: 3 years

Grasslands cover about one third of the land surface and are an important element of mountain landscapes, where they provide an essential basis for human livelihood. The ecohydrology of mountain grassland affects the vulnerability of agricultural productivity to climatic changes and in particular drought events, and determines the water yield, a key feature in mountain regions, which are considered as water towers.

Given that the pace of climate change is more rapid in the Alps as compared to the global average, and that drought events are expected to occur with increasing frequency and severity in the coming decades, there is an urgent need to understand how the ecohydrology of mountain grassland is affected by multiple global changes. ClimGrassHydro makes use of a unique experimental field facility consisting of 54 independent grassland plots to simulate individual and combined effects of climate warming, severe drought and elevated CO2 on grassland ecohydrology. The project will not only explore non-linear and non-additive responses of ecohydrological processes to warming and elevated CO2, following a response surface approach. It will also test for effects of single and recurrent drought events under current and likely future conditions in a warmer CO2-rich world, and thereby investigate ecohydrological feedback- and legacy effects.

The project will apply state-of-the-art methodologies, integrating lysimetry and chamber-based measurements with isotopic approaches, to separate evaporation and transpiration, identify preferential flow paths and root water uptake as well as water sourcing across the soil profile, estimate plant water use efficiency and the residence times of soil water and quantify seepage dynamics under current and future climatic conditions. It will integrate the major findings into two complementary modelling frameworks, including a hydrological model and a dynamic  global vegetation model, to be able to generalize findings and upscale them for understanding broader implications for the components of the water cycle and water yield. It will thereby help understand the smaller-scale mechanisms and the larger-scale consequences of grassland ecohydrology in a rapidly changing world.


Internationale Programme
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Dr. Günter Köck
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