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The western Montasio glacier in 3D.

Three glaciological research teams of Friuli Venezia Giulia region working together to reach this important target


The Wester of Montasio (Figure 1) is, strictly speaking, the only glacial body in the Julian Alps to maintain the characteristics of a small mountain glacier. The presence of Randkluft and Bergschrund (the crevasses in the upper part of the glacial cone in contact with the rock face and immediately downstream of it) as well as some longitudinal crevasses that reveal its dynamics (Figure 2), are the most evident morphological aspects in its classification and we have schematized them in Figure 3.


Figura 1.

The small western glacier of Montasio in an archive photo of May 27, 2020 with not particularly significant snow. The mighty frontal moraine of the Little Ice Age and the accumulation avalanche cone are evident


Figura 2.

Ortophoto of the apical part of the western Montasio glacier highlighting the Randkluft and the Bergschrund as well as the first transverse and longitudinal crevasses of the glacial body. At the end of the 2016 ablation season, which this ortho-rectified aerial photo refers to, debris cover was quite prominent over the entire glacial body.


Figura 3.

Diagram of the processes and glacio-morphological evidence typical of a small mountain glacier such as the western one of Montasio


On June 3rd, after several postponements linked to the rather unstable weather conditions of May, the team, consisting of 10 units (Figure 4), finally managed to climb the glacier to complete a long-planned survey.

In particular, 3 glaciological research groups from Friuli Venezia Giulia belonging to the CNR-Institute of Polar Sciences, the University of Trieste (Department of Mathematics and Geosciences) and the University of Udine, have joined forces to complete a survey detail of the glacial body that will allow for the first time to obtain a true 3D of the total mass of ice.

A few days earlier, in fact, the two groups led by Renato R. Colucci (CNR, UniTS) and Federico Cazorzi (UniUD) had operated separately, respectively on Canin and Montasio, to carry out the winter mass balance surveys and obtain a digital model detailed view of the topographical surface of the two glacial systems.


On June 3rd, on the other hand, the helicopter-transported team at high altitude thanks to the logistical support of the Forest Service and forestry corps, a stable central structure for the prevention of avalanche risk (Gabriele Amadori and Mauro Azzini), carried out geophysical surveys with Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) thanks to the cooperation of the applied geophysics group of the Department of Mathematics and Geosciences of the University of Trieste (Emanuele Forte) assisted by Simone Pillon for the positioning support and georeferencing in real time to the instrument. Representing the University of Udine, which for several years has been dealing with mass balance measures on the West of Montasio, was Jessica De Marco, engaged in a research doctorate with Prof. Cazorzi.

The longest and most complex operations, given the slopes and the dimensions of the antenna to be dragged, were those related to the relief of the apical avalanche fan, but the preventive planning studied at the table and set up together with some CNSAS technicians, allowed to operate safely and successfully achieve the planned objective. However, for safety reasons, we opted to avoid the highest area on the orographic left affected by frequent snow discharges due to high temperatures.

Now the longest and most laborious part of the work will begin, that is, that of processing and interpreting the data, which will eventually allow us to obtain the first three-dimensional virtual model of the western Montasio glacier, considered the lowest in the whole system. Alpine Italian, as well as knowing the thickness of ice still present in the glacial cirque.


Figura 4.

The team that carried out the GPR survey on the Western Montasio glacier



Testo e immagini a cura di Renato R. Colucci

CNR-Istituto di Scienze Polari; Università di Trieste-Dipartimento di Matematica e Geoscienze; Società Meteorologica Alpino-Adriatica

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