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

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IPA Global Geocryological Database
Database Information Sheet

Name of data set: Rock glaciers Gruben, Muragl and Murtel, Switzerland: Area-wide flow fields

Details of Principal Investigators:

Andreas Kaeaeb


Department of Geography
Physical Geography Division
University of Zurich-Irchel
Winterthurerstrasse 190
CH-8057 Zurich

Phone: ++41 1 635 5146
Fax: ++41 1 635 6848

Coverage of data set:

Study location:

Gruben rock glacier, Valais Alps, Saas valley, Switzerland
Muragl rock glacier, Upper Engadine, Switzerland
Murtel rock glacier, Upper Engadine, Switzerland

Geographic extent:

Gruben rock glacier: 46 10'10" N - 7 57'50" E
Muragl rock glacier: 46 30'20" N - 9 56'00" E
Murtel rock glacier: 46 26'00" N - 9 49'20" E

Period of investigation:

Gruben: 1970-1995, Muragl: 1981-1994, Murtel: 1987-1994

Summary Description

Besides their thermal and mechanical properties, rock glaciers are essentially defined by their kinematics. Knowledge of the permafrost flow field provides important information about the origin, morphology, development, dynamics and internal structure of creeping mountain permafrost. Monitoring permafrost behavior helps detecting climate signals.

Aerial photogrammetry was used for determining digital terrain models (DTM) with high resolution. The differences of multitemporal DTMs of a rock glacier provide the vertical changes of the permafrost surface. Horizontal surface displacements were obtained by simultaneously comparing two aerial photographs taken at different times and from different positions (Kaeaeb 1996a,b, Kaeaeb et al.1998).

Repeated overridings by the nearby glacier affected the upper part of the Gruben rock glacier, Wallis. Compared to the lower, periglacial part of the rock glacier the higher surface lowering rates of the debris-covered dead ice remains indicate the dead ice being out of equilibrium. Due to different internal structure and different slopes, horizontal surface velocities show different creep directions as well as different creep rates. The rock glacier advances by about 12 cm/a. A 25-year time series of photogrammetrical monitoring (1970-1995) documents the temporal variations of surface kinematics of the rock glacier. (cf. Figure Gruben). (Kaeaeb et al. 1998a).

Surface kinematics of Muragl rock glacier (Upper Engadin) over the period from 1981 to 1994 reveal this rock glacier to be a complex system of several individual streams. Changes in elevation show a pattern of zones of surface heave and subsidence in the range of +- 10 cm/a. The rock glacier advances by about 5 cm/a.(cf. Figure Muragl). (Kaeaeb 1998).

The velocity field 1987-1996 at the surface of Murtel rock glacier, Upper Engadin, points to two dynamically different parts of the creeping permafrost: (1) high activity and transverse ridges in the inner part and (2) lower activity at the left and right margins. The ridges are advected down stream with a velocity approximately equal to the surface velocity. Stream lines can be interpolated from the surface velocity field. The curvature of the isochrones on Murtel rock glacier is similar to the curvature of the transverse ridges, which suggests slow changes in the flow field.(cf. Figure Murtel). (Kaeaeb 1998, Kaeaeb et al. 1998b).

Please cite these data as follows:

Kaeaeb, A. 1998. Rock glaciers Gruben, Muragl and Murtel, Switzerland: Area-wide flow fields. 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.

Current storage of data:

Paper        X
Wordprocessor file(s) X
Database     X


Department of Geography
Physical Geography Division
University of Zurich-Irchel

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Barsch D. and G. Hell. 1976. Photogrammetrische Bewegungsmessung am Blockgletscher Murtel I, Oberengadin, Schweizer Alpen. Zeitschrift fuer Gletscherkunde und Glazialgeologie 11(2, S): 111-142.

Haeberli W. and W. Schmid. 1988. Aerophotogrammetrical monitoring of rock glaciers. V. Internat Conference on Permafrost, Proceedings 1(S): 764-769.

Kaab A.. 1996a. Photogrammetrische analyse zur Frueherkennung gletscher- und permafrostbedinger Naturgefahren im Hochgebirge. Mitteilungen der Versuchsanstalt fuer Wasserbau. Hydrologie und Glaziologie (VAW) der ETH Zuerich 145. (German, abstract in English).

Kaab A. 1996b. Photogrammetrische analyse von Gletschern und Permafrost. Zeitschrift fuer Vermessung. Photogrammetrie und Kulturtechnik 12/96, S.639-644. (German).

Kaab A. 1998. Oberflaechenkinematik Ausgewaehlter Blockgletscher des Oberengadins. Jahrestagung 1997 der Schweizerischen Geomorphologischen Gesellschaft. Hydrologie und Glaziologie (VAW) der ETH Zürich 158): 121-140 (German, abstract in English)

Kaab A., W. Haeberli, and G. H. Gudmundsson. 1997. Analyzing the creep of mountain permafrost using high precision aerial photogrammetry: 25 years of monitoring gruben rock glacier, Swiss Alps. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 8(4): 409-426.

Kaeaeb A., G. H. Gudmundsson, and M. Hoelzle. 1998. Surface deformation of creeping mountain permafrost. photogrammetric investigations on Murtel Rock Glacier, Siss Alps. Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Permafrost, Yellowknife, Canada, Collection Nordicana 57: 531-537.

Vonder Muehll, D.S.and W. Schmid. 1993. Geophysical and photogrammetrical investigation of Rock Glacier Muragl I, Upper Engadin, Swiss Alps. VI Internat Conference on Permafrost, Proceedings 1(S): 214-219.


  1. Switzerland
  2. Rock Glaciers
  3. Photogrammetry
  4. Flow fields of rock glaciers
  5. Changes in elevation

Data samples:

Figure GRU1DAT.GIF: Horizontal surface velocities and changes in elevation 1970-1995 on Gruben rock glacier.

Figure GRU2DAT.GIF: Temporal variations of average velocity and average change in elevation on the periglacial (i.e. lower) part of Gruben rock glacier.

Figure MURADAT.GIF: Horizontal surface velocities 1981-1994 on Muragl rock glacier.

Figure MURTDAT.GIF: Horizontal surface velocities 1987-1996 on Murtel rock glacier.