Drawing on its excellent research capabilities, the CERC research centre develops practical solutions for socially relevant problems that mountain regions face as a result of climate change, extreme events and natural hazards. As a research, knowledge and implementation hub, the CERC combines top international research with regional knowledge to ensure that mountain regions remain safe and valuable habitats in the future.
Harnessing a comprehensive understanding of the relevant processes, combined with projections regarding future development, the CERC supports the rapid transfer of knowledge between experts and practitioners in Switzerland and other mountainous countries. The research centre also has close links to WSL's research programme CCAMM (Climate Change Impacts on Alpine Mass Movements).
As global warming progresses, weather and climate extremes are becoming more frequent in alpine regions. The intensification of extreme weather events is one of the aspects of climate change that has the greatest impact on our lives. In alpine regions, such events could potentially trigger social and economic crises by, for instance, increasing the frequency and effects of natural hazards or causing the loss of existing ecosystem services. The centre's research will help to deepen understanding of the effects of these extremes and the associated risks and identify ways of mitigating or managing them for the benefit of society.
The corresponding research group will be established in 2022.
Permafrost shapes the alpine mountain landscape and plays an important role e.g. for the planning and construction of high mountain infrastructures, for natural hazard management or landscape development. If the permanently frozen ground warms up or thaws, the frequency and occurrence of natural hazards such as rockfalls or debris flows may change. With its research as well as long-term in-situ observation in permafrost areas, the center develops important baseline data on the thermal state of permafrost soils and their dynamics. The aim is to document changes, better understand processes and identify future developments at an early stage in order to ultimately prevent risks and hazards.
More information: Research group Permafrost
Climate change is having an increasing impact on the Alpine region and the potential for natural hazard processes in the high mountains is rising. However, it is impossible to predict where extreme events will occur, and complete protection of settlements and transport routes is technically and economically impossible. Remote sensing systems on the ground, on drones, aircraft or satellites are increasingly becoming an important tool in natural hazard research. They can be used to accurately document events, continuously record changes, and identify potential "hotspots" at an early stage. The combination of optical and radar remote sensing systems has great potential to increase the level of safety. The center is researching how such systems can be optimally used in the future in high alpine terrain for the documentation, detection and prevention of natural hazards.
More information: Research group Alpine Remote Sensing
In order to estimate the consequences of climate change on movement and deposition processes of snow, rock and ice avalanches, it is indispensable to consider a wide range of scenarios, including those for which there are hardly any reference cases yet. Thus, the simulation of the dynamics of such alpine mass movements is of central importance. In times of unpredictable changes, it forms the basis for hazard assessment and the planning of protective measures. The center investigates the formation, movement and deposition processes of avalanches, landslides, debris flows and rockfalls in field and laboratory experiments and models them with physical models. Special attention is paid to the concatenation of hazard processes. Thus, it supports a risk-based, sustainable management of natural hazards.
More information: Research group RAMMS Rapid Mass Movements
Mountain ecosystems are exposed to major changes due to climate change, land use changes and natural disturbances and will be even more exposed to various extreme events in the future. This influences the protective function of forests against natural hazards, but also various other environmental services such as recreational function, habitats of animal and plant species, climate feedbacks or the sustainable use of regional products. With its research, the center contributes to a better understanding of such changes in mountain ecosystems and to assessing their future impacts. Based on this, options for measures can be developed with regard to the prevention of natural hazards and the sustainable safeguarding and optimization of the availability of environmental services in mountain areas.
More information: Research group Mountain Ecosystems
Mountain areas in Switzerland, such as the canton of Graubünden, are threatened by natural hazard processes such as avalanches, debris flows, floods, landslides or rockfall. Appropriate management of the risks from these hazards is essential for the sustainable development of society in mountain areas. Creating knowledge and awareness about the impacts and risks of natural hazards, their uncertainties and possible future developments is central for risk communication and the elaboration of optimal combinations of measures within the framework of integral risk management. In this way, the resilience of society, i.e. the capacity for resistance, regeneration and adaptation, can be maintained and increased for both frequent and extreme events.
The group is developing risk-based and practical methods to help manage risks from natural hazards, taking into account uncertainties arising from climate change and societal developments. These methods can also be used in risk communication and support the development of optimal combinations of measures for adequate safety. Our work covers both rare extreme events and more frequent events.
More information: Research group Risk and Resilience