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Supplements of Geografia Fisica e Dinamica Quaternaria
Volume V - 2001


Proceedings of the 8th Italian Glaciological Meeting


The glacier caves of Gornergletscher (Switzerland): preliminary notes on their morphology and hydrology – Le cavità glaciali del Gornergletscher (Svizzera): considerazioni preliminari sulla morfologia ed idrodinamica

Pages 151-156


In the last 15 years, several investigations in englacial and subglacial caves have been performed in the Alps. The most interesting results have been obtained from Gornergletscher, in the South West of Switzerland, one of the widest glaciers in the Alps. It descends towards WNW from the M. Rosa group, receiving important tributaries from the left . In the ablation zone, between 2600 and 2400 m of altitude, the glacier exhibits a karst-like topography. In this area the surface is relatively planar and a few fractured; this morphological condition allows the surface drainage of melrwater. Some streams feed supraglacial lakes, most of which have no surface outflow. Meltwater from supraglacial basins often plunges down into vertical holes (rnoulins) which feed directly into the englacial drainage network. Presently, the surveys have allowed to recognise two different types of moulins: the former is characterised by a vertical pattern, with a first shaft commonly deeper than 40-50 meters; the latter has a gentlydipping development with a small shaft in the entrance. Some of the first type glacier shafts have been explored to the water-table (varying from -30 to -140 m). On the ground of our observations, the initial geometry of moulins depends on local structural factors, whereas the annual evolution mainly depends on the hydrodynamic behaviour and on the seasonal water-level fluctuations. Geometry and hydrology of englacial caves are very similar to those of karst rock; this morphologic convergence and the hydrodynamic behaviour of moulins suggest the existence of a complex englacial «phreatic» network.

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