Note: This data set was first published on the 1998 CAPS CD.
The text for this document was taken unchanged from that CD.

See also Description of Data Files.

IPA Global Geocryological Database

Name of data set: Rock glaciers in the Pyrenees

Details of principal investigator:

Eduardo Martinez de Pison
Enrique Serrano
Carlos Agudo
Miguel Arenillas
Isidro Cantarino
Francisco Garcia
Ramiro Martinez
Jose Navarro
Alfonso Pedrero


Environment National Ministry.

Dpto. Geografia.
Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
28049 Madrid
tel.- 34-1-3974513

Dpto. Geografia, Urbanismo y O.T.
Universidad de Cantabria
Av. de Los castros s/n.
39012 Santander
Phone: 34-42-20.17.76
Fax. 34-1-20.17.83
E mail.-

Coverage of Data set:

Study location:

Pyrenees (Spain, France)

Geographic extent:

Northwestern latitude: 42o 50' N
Northwestern longitude: 0o 20' W
Southeastern latitude: 42o 20' N
Southeastern longitude: 0o 55' E

Period of investigation:

Inventory of rock glaciers: 1990-1997

Summary description

Pyrenees is the northernmost range of the Iberian Peninsula, separating the Spanish and French states. The high Pyrenees occupy 365 km2 and spread from the upper timberline at 2400 m to the 3404 m Aneto summit, the highest peak. Today the high mountain is deglaciated; it is a rocky high mountain with glacial shapes and cryonival landforms and processes. According to World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), there are forty-one glaciers occupying 8.1 km2. The ELA (Equilibrium Line Altitude) is located around 3100 m in northern orientations. The study and inventory of active rock glaciers were carried out by means of the usual techniques used in the study of alpine permafrost. First, the rock glaciers were located by means of aerial photography and field work. Second, a detailed geomorphological map was prepared, to detect the active processes in each rock glacier. This includes geotransect and surface analysis (clast roundness, clast forms, particle orientation and lichenometric measurements). Third, complementary measurements (water temperature and BTS - bottom temperature of snow - measurements) were carried out. These three studies allowed us to determinate the activity or inactivity of previously detailed landforms, and to classify them as active, inactive or relict rock glaciers. The external landforms, frontal slope, vertical organization, flow forms, absence of lichens and the descriptive parameters of rock glaciers allowed us to classify them as relict or active ones. On the Besiberri, Gemelos and Argualas rock glaciers we have carried out photogrammetric studies, and on the Argualas rock glacier we carried out a topographic survey from 1991 and also geoelectric soundings (San Jose et al. 1992; Serrano et al. 1995; Fabre et al. 1995).

In the Pyrenees have been detected thirteen active rock glaciers, together with embrionary [emerging?] rock glaciers and active periglacial landforms. The study of rock glaciers allows us to place the discontinuous permafrost limit at 2650-2700 m a.s.l. The active rock glaciers are located in the deglaciated high mountain of the central Pyrenees, and are linked to the recent deglaciation of the high mountain They remain in a very dynamic periglacial environment associated with its characteristics landforms (snow patches, solifluction, protalus ramparts, debris flow, debris lobes and debris slopes). The rock glaciers are situated in the most massive and highest massifs (Argualas-Infierno, 3171 m, Posets, 3200 m, Besiberri, 3014 m, Aneto 3404 m), in cirques and slopes over 2600 m, and below summits higher than 2950 m. The orientations are north and northwest (93%) and the substratum is diverse. Rock glaciers presence implies a morphogenetic sequence conditioned by the ELA ascent and the enlargement of cryogenic domain, both characteristic processes of the recently deglaciated high mountain. The rock glaciers of the Pyrenees occupy a surface of 1 km2 and represent 1.3% of ice reserves in the Pyrenees. Actually the active rock glaciers are located in environments not favorable to rock glaciers. The genesis of rock glaciers in the Pyrenees high mountain is related to the transition between a residual glacial environment of altitude and the periglacial environment in the cryonival belt. The activity of the Pyrenees active rock glaciers is, primarily, a heritage of past environmental conditions and the result of a slow response to recent environmental changes.

Current storage of data:

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Dpto. Geografia, Urbanismo y O.T.
Universidad de Cantabria
Av. De Los Castros s/n
Fax.- 34-1-201783

Are your data at risk of being lost? NO


Please cite these data as follows:

Martinez de Pison, E.; Serrano, E.; Agudo, C.; Arenillas, M.; Cantarino, I.; Garcia, F.; Martinez, R.; Navarro, J.; and Pedrero, A. 1998. Rock glaciers in the Pyrenees, Spain and France. In: International Permafrost Association, Data and Information Working Group, comp. Circumpolar Active-Layer Permafrost System (CAPS), version 1.0. CD-ROM available from National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Colorado: NSIDC, University of Colorado at Boulder.


AGUDO, C., SERRANO, E., MARTINEZ DE PISON, E.(1990).-"El glaciar rocoso activo de los Gemelos en el Macizo del Posets (Pirineo Aragones)". Cuaternario y Geomorfologa. vol. 3, nr 1-4 :83-91. In Spanish, abstract in English.

ANGELY, A.G.(1967).-"Anciens glaciers dans l'est des Pyrenees centrales". Revue Geographique des Pyrenees et du Sud Ouest, 38(1): 5-28. In French.

CAZENAVE-PIARROT, F., TIHAY, J.P. (1986).-"Glaciers rocheaux dans les Pyrenees Centrales et Occidentales". Communication a la Societ Hydrotechnique de France (section Glaciologie), Paris, 8p. In French.

FABRE, D.; GARCIA, F.; EVIN, M.; MARTINEZ, R.; SERRANO, E. ASSIER, A.; SMIRAGLIA, C.(1995).- Structure interne du glacier rocheux actif de las Argualas (Pyrenes aragonaises, Espagne). La Houille Blanche, nr 5-6 :144-147. In French, abstract in English.

HAMILTON, (1988).-"The development, age and present status of a rock glacier in the Posets Massif, Spanish Pyrenees".Pirineos, 131:43-56.

MARTI, M.; SERRAT, D.(1995). Les glaceres rocalloses pirinenques. Terra, n 25, vol. 10 :24-34.

MARTINEZ DE PISON, E.; ARENILLAS, M.(1988).- "Los Glaciares actuales del Pirineo Espanol". En La nieve en el Pirineo espanol, M.O.P.U., Madrid :29-98.In Spanish, abstract in English

MARTINEZ DE PISON , E.; ARENILLAS, M.; MARTINEZ, R.(1992).- El estado de los glaciares espanoles en 1991. Era 28 :176-182. In Spanish.

MARTINEZ DE PISON , E.; NAVARRO, P.; ; MARTINEZ, I.; CANTARINO, I.; PEDRERO, A. ARENILLAS, M.(1995).- Observaciones morfologicas sobre la evolucion de los glaciares del Pirineo espanol entre 1982 y 1993. La nieve en las Cordilleras espanolas. M.O.P.T.M.A., Madrid :253-281.In Spanish.

SAN JOSE; SERRANO, E.; SILIO, F.; AGUDO, C.(1992). Auscultacion topografica y fotogrametrica del Glaciar rocoso de las Argualas (Pirineo aragones): datos preliminares. Estudios de Geomorfologia en Espana. II Reunion nacional de Geomorfologia, S.E.G. Universidad de Murcia, Murcia :422-431.In Spanish, abstract in English.

SERRANO, E.(1991).- Glacial evolution of the Upper Gallego valley (Panticosa mountains and Ribera de Biescas, aragonese Pyrenees, Spain). Pirineos, 138 :83-104.

SERRANO, E.(1996).- Lineas de equilibrio glaciar, glaciares rocosos y paleoambiente postglaciar en la alta montaa pirenaica (Macizo de Panticosa, Pirineo aragones). Perez, A.; Martini, W; Chesworth, W.; Martinez, A.(eds.) Dinamica y evolucion de medios cuaternarios. Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela :157-170. In Spanish, abstract in English.

SERRANO, E., RUBIO, V.(1989).-"El glaciar rocoso activo de las Argualas (Pirineo Aragones)". Eria, n 19-20 :195-198.In Spanish.

SERRANO, E. MARTINEZ DE PISON, E.; MARTINEZ, R.; CANTARINO, I.; NAVARRO, J.(1991).- El glaciar noroccidental del Besiberri (Pirineo de Lerida). Pirineos, 137 :95-109. In Spanish, abstract in English

SERRANO, E.; MARTINEZ DE PISON, E.(1994).- Geomorfologia y evolucion glaciar en el Pirineo aragones oriental. En Garca Ruiz y Mart Bono (eds.) El glaciarismo surpirenaico: nuevas aportaciones. Geoforma ediciones, Logroo :33-64.In Spanish.

SERRANO, E.; SAN JOSE, J.J.; SILIO, F.; AGUDO, C.(1995). Movimiento superficial del glaciar rocoso de las Argualas. Pirineos, 145-146 :103-110. In Spanish, abstract in English.

SERRANO, E.; AGUDO, C.(1997). Los glaciares rocosos activos del Pirineo aragones: inventario, dinamica actual y clasificacion. Informe Consejo de Proteccion de los glaciares, Direccion General del Medio Natural, Gobierno de Aragon. Unpublished. In spanish.