Laboratorio a Cielo aperto delle Grandes Jorasses per lo sviluppo di tecniche di monitoraggio di processi di instabilità in ambito glaciale


Climate change has a powerful impact on high-altitude Alpine sectors and glaciers. This impact often turns into an increase in instability processes that can lead to very high-risk conditions. These risk conditions can significantly affect the usability of areas characterized by intense tourist flows, making risk management very complex.


The open-air laboratory of Grandes Jorasses was born from an agreement between the Montagna Sicura Foundation and CNR IRPI. The deal aims to use the area of the Grandes Jorasses (Italian side of Mont Blanc, municipality of Courmayeur) as a site in which to develop innovative techniques aimed at monitoring the instability processes that characterize the Planpincieux glacier and that of the Grandes Jorasses (Whymper Serac).


The laboratory uses the most advanced monitoring systems that exist today on the market and develops new ones (partly patented by CNR) to significantly increase the knowledge of the dynamics that characterize the Planpincieux and Grandes Jorasses glaciers. In particular, the site provides for the combined use of instrumentation for high-frequency topographic monitoring such as GB SAR, robotic total station, systems based on image analysis. These are also combined with periodic measurement campaigns carried out with drones, ground-penetrating radar, and LiDAR.


The project aims to study the dynamics of the Planpincieux and Grandes Jorasses glaciers and to offer scientific support to the decision-making process for assessing the level of risk. Starting from instrumental pieces of equipment that makes it unique both nationally and internationally, the project aims to develop high-frequency monitoring strategies that can also be used in other case studies.


The open-air laboratory has so far made it possible to support particularly critical periods in which the accelerations of the glacial mass have created severe risk conditions. In this context, the systems used have made it possible to minimize access restrictions to the areas potentially most at risk while providing a large amount of original scientific data that have led to the publication of various contributions in the leading international scientific journals in the sector.


The Grandes Jorasses open-air laboratory represents a flagship in the panorama of high-frequency monitoring systems of instability processes in the glacial environment. The applied research conducted in this laboratory is aimed at increasing knowledge but also at using this knowledge for a more effective management of the territory. The ultimate goal is to create a system that is able to define strategies for a more sustainable coexistence between human activities and high mountain regions, where climate change often has a very significant impact.