PROJECT Sattelkar

Climatic Sensitivity of high-alpine Cirques: The Sattelkar Cirque and its Neighbours

Glacial cirques, located immediately below the highest peaks and headwalls, represent the uppermost location for substantial sediment storage in high-alpine environments. Pronounced recent climatic warming causes considerable, potentially dramatic, changes in these areas. Rising air temperatures and increased liquid precipitation induce substantial, and possibly rapid, subsurface warming. For frozen debris deposits, this can result in significant permafrost degradation, leading to the reduction of cohesion and stability, and ultimately to the provision of sediment to potentially hazardous mass wasting processes such as landslides and debris flows. Due to intense recent and past (peri-)glacial erosion and their concave, deposition-friendly morphometry, cirques frequently possess considerable debris volumes. Changes in the sediment mobilisation regime are therefore especially impactful in these environments.


The remote Sattelkar cirque and its neighbouring cirques are located in the Obersulzbachtal, Hohe Tauern Range, in an elevation range between approximately 2.100-2.800 m above sea level (asl). Strong surface displacements have been observed in the Sattelkar since 2005. The initial displacements triggered massive degradation of the vegetation cover and the exposure and enhanced mobilisation of the debris cover. Terrain analysis revealed that a deep-seated, retrogressive movement in the debris cover of the cirque had been initiated. Heavy precipitation is assumed to cause spreading and sliding of the glacial and periglacial debris cover on the underlying, smooth bedrock cirque floor. Detailed aerial photo analyses, witness reports and damage documentations demonstrated that local mass movement and debris flow activity has steadily increased over the last decade. During this period, debris flows from the Sattelkar blocked the Obersulzbach river, and, in combination with the general flooding situation in the catchment, caused substantial destruction in the middle and lower reaches of the Obersulzbach river.


The Sattelkar has three neighbouring cirques with nearly identical properties that follow at upper locations of the valley: the Ofenkar, Mitterkar and Steinkar. Despite similar topographical, climatological and hydrological conditions, no significant debris flow activity has been observed here. So far, it is not clear, why the Sattelkar is active and its neighbours are not.


Based on a long-term monitoring approach, we systematically and continuously observe the atmospheric, surface and subsurface conditions to quantitatively assess ground thermal conditions and mass wasting activity. Based on these measurements, we hope to improve our understanding how high-alpine cirques react to climate change and which natural hazard potential can be expected in the foreseeable future.



Contribution GEORESEARCH: Project Lead

Projekt Partners: National Park Hohe Tauern, Hydrographic Service Salzburg, Geological Service Salzburg, Torrent and Avalanche Control Austria

Projekt Duration: 2018 - 2024

Funding: National Park Hohe Tauern, Ländliche Entwicklung - LE 14–20


Webcam Sattelkar Landslide

Webcam Sattelkar

Since July 2022 we are using a high-resolution webcam to monitor the extensive Sattelkar landslide at the Obersulzbach valley. The acquired photos and videos are updated daily and allow the reconstruction of slide rates and single events. Follow the link below for direct access to our Sattelkar webcam.

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National Park Hohe Tauern

Hydrographic Service Salzburg

Geological Service Salzburg

Torrent and Avalance Control Austria




Hochgebirge im Klimawandel, Langzeitmonitoring im Nationalpark Hohe Tauern. Ö1 Dimensionen, 27.09.2022


9 x Österreich. Erkundungen in Salzburg. Vom Außergebirg ins Innergebirg. Ö1 Radiokolleg, 22.09.2022


Klimawandel führt in den Alpen zu mehr Muren und Steinschlägen. Der Standard, Forschung Spezial, 17.08.2022.


Klimawandel im Hochgebirge: „Müssen uns auf große Schäden einstellen". Tiroler Tageszeitung, 21.07.2022.


Forschen an der Existenzgrenze: Wo der Klimawandel in den Alpen sichtbar ist. Salzburger Nachrichten, 21.07.2022


Hermle, D., Gaeta, M., Krautblatter, M., Mazzanti, P., and Keuschnig, M.: Performance Testing of Optical Flow Time Series Analyses Based on a Fast, High-Alpine Landslide. Remote Sensing, 14, 455,, 2022.

Hermle, D., Keuschnig, M., Hartmeyer, I., Delleske, R., and Krautblatter, M.: Challenging the timely prediction of landside early warning systems with multispectral remote sensing: a novel conceptual approach tested in the Sattelkar, Austria, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 2753–2772,, 2021.


Hermle, D., Gaeta, M., Keuschnig, M., Mazzanti, P., and Krautblatter, M.: Multi-temporal analysis of optical remote sensing for time-series displacement of gravitational mass movements, Sattelkar, Obersulzbach Valley, Austria, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-8011,, 2021.


Keuschnig, M., Hermle, D., and Krautblatter, M.: A conceptual approach on optimising lead time for the forecasting of landslides using remote sensing systems, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-17267,, 2020


Hermle, D., Keuschnig, M., and Krautblatter, M.: Potential of multisensor assessment using digital image correlation for landslide detection and monitoring, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-16982,, 2020


Massiver Felsrutsch in Hohen Tauern wirft Fragen auf (2020): ORF Salzburg, 25.09.2020 -


IPA - International Permafrost Association (2018). Reports from the Adhering Bodies of the International Permafrost Association. ISSN 2221-3775.


Otto J-C., Hartmeyer I., Keuschnig M. (2018): Naturgefahren in alpinen Permafrostregionen und Permafrostmonitoring. Geographische Rundschau 11-2018.


Natur schafft Wissen - Nationalpark Hohe Tauern (2018): ORF 3, Land der Berge.


Hartmeyer I., Keuschnig M., Fegerl L., Valentin G., Helfricht K., Otto J-C. (2017): Long-term monitoring of climate-sensitive cirques in the Hohe Tauern range. 6th Symposium for Research in Protected Areas, Salzburg.


Der Standard Forschung Spezial


Fresh newspaper article on our longterm monitoring activities at the Sattelkar (Obersulzbach valley, Salzburg). The article was published on 17.08.2022 in the science supplement (Forschung Spezial) of 'Der Standard'. Click below to learn more.

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ORF Salzburg Heute

Podcast Alpenrauschen

Yesterday’s edition of the ORF newscast ‘Salzburg Heute’ covered our research activities in the Hohe Tauern Range and addressed how recent climate warming increases debris flow and rockfall risks. The feature is available online until 18.07.2022 – check it out!

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MEDIA ORF news article Sattelkar


In high-alpine cirques, climate change-induced permafrost degradation and an increase in liquid precipitation are projected to promote the availability of fresh, unconsolidated sediments. The relevance of cirques as source areas of hazardous mass movements is therefore expected to grow significantly. Together with the Nationalpark Hohe Tauern we are currently running a long-term monitoring to better understand the causes and consequences. Recently the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) covered our research activities at the Sattelkar (Obersulzbachtal, Salzburg) with a news article and a TV report (German only). 

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MEDIA Land der Berge: Natur schafft Wissen


This "Land der Berge" documentary gives a scientific perspective on the National Park Hohe Tauern: what can we learn from mainly pristine nature and how can we use this knowledge in times of climate change?

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