Alp Week Intermezzo 2020: The Alpine Water Tower

From 9th to 11th December the Alp Week Intermezzo 2020 took place. During these three days of Zoom conferences the topic “Youth & Climate” and the question of how young people in the Alps can be involved in shaping their future has been discussed.


I had the opportunity to attend to a session about the so-called Alpine water tower. What that is? This term refers to the Alps as water reservoir, not only for the regions around the Alps, but for central Europe in general. Here you can see an illustration of the functioning of a water tower:

“Mountains are the water towers of the world, supplying substantial part of both natural and anthropogenic water demands. They are highly sensitive and prone to climate change, yet their importance and vulnerability have not been quantified at the global scale.”

Immerzeel et al., 2020, Nature


Due to the consequences of climate change, like melting glaciers, there will probably be less water available in the future. This raises the question of how to establish sustainable and interregional water management in order to avoid potential conflicts about water distribution.


Inga Beck from the Schneefernerhaus, an environmental research station located on Germany’s highest mountain Zugspitze, was moderating the session. To start, she briefly presented the research station to the about 12 participants. Prof. Dr. Ralf Ludwig, hydrologist, working at the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich, continued by giving a presentation about climate change in the Alps, the concept of a water tower and the risks and challenges those latter will have to face in the future. An example? Whereas extreme flood events currently occur once in 100 years, they may occur once in 40 or even 20 years in the future. The frequency of extreme events will therefore be much higher.

The research station “Schneefernerhaus”

Another important aspect, which was mentioned by Ralf Ludwig and later discussed by the participants, is the issue of winter tourism. As temperature is increasing and glaciers are melting, ski resorts become more and more dependent on using artificial snow, which requires A LOT of water. Some participants thus proposed that winter tourism should be limited and shifted into summer. Bad news for all ski-lovers…


Also the process of pumping water from the Danube River into the Main and Rhine River does no longer work, as the water level in the Danube River is reducing more and more. This would cause a “hydro conflict potential”.


When asked by a participant whether there are models that show a less dramatic scenario, Ralf Ludwig mentioned that there were studies with less drastic previsions. However, the study could be used as “window of opportunity” and reflects what we can expect, sooner or later, if we do not mitigate emissions.

After the presentation and the little discussion, Inga Beck opened a whiteboard where the participants could note their ideas concerning areas that are affected by climate change in the Alpine region, such as agriculture, energy and tourism. Everybody agreed, that one key factor is education. Children in primary school should already learn about the importance and the urgency of climate protection, because “we cannot wait”.


For further information please contact

Dr. Inga Beck (i.beck@schneefernerhaus.de) or check out the website: https://schneefernerhaus.de/en/


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