Hydrologic balance and global change: future prospect for mountain areas in the face of changes in land use and climate

Climate change and the decline of mountain agriculture are modern developments with far-reaching consequences for the hydrologic balance of mountain ranges. Mountain areas are characterized by intricate structures and extreme conditions and react very sensitively to changes. But the impact can be felt far beyond the actual mountain area. All large rivers rise in mountain areas and more than half of humanity depends on the water stored in mountain ranges. All the more important to be able to understand the impact of land use and climate change on the hydrologic balance in mountain areas as precisely as possible.

The project Top-Klima-Science was a research-cooperation at international level: the Institute of Ecology at the University of Innsbruck and the European Academy Bolzano were coordinating their efforts with their partner school HLFS Kematen in Tyrol. Two classes with nearly 60 students were involved in all areas of the project, from forming hypotheses to field work and analysing and presenting the findings.

The project Top-Klima-Science involved investigating the evaporation across various land-use types, i.e. intensively and extensively used meadows and pastures as well as fallow land, throughout the Stubai valley in Tyrol, measuring surface run-off and infiltration and gathering additional information on vegetation, micro-climate, soil, and the ecophysiology of key species. By replanting vegetation blocks from high altitude in lower areas and vice versa we also analysed the impact of temperature changes. Such labour-intensive work was only made possible due to the involvement of the partner school.

The study provided an essential input for modelling the hydrologic balance of an entire valley and opened up an opportunity to analyse the impact of land-use and climate change scenarios.

The research project as such was accompanied by an ongoing evaluation of the process, which formed an ideal basis for the intended longer-term cooperation between research and education establishments.

This project has been completed.