English Version > Aim and Research Lines
The main aim of the activities of the High Mountain Physical Geography Research Group is:
To assess the impact of current climate change on that part of the cryosphere found on the world’s mountains in the form of glaciers, snow cover and permafrost, so as to understand its effects on landscape dynamics, land planning and habitability.
To fulfil this mission the group is engaged in the following research areas:
1.- Evaluation of the current impact of climate change on the cryosphere: studying the impact of current global warming on the snow cover and permafrost on mountains in the centre and south of the Iberian Peninsula, including the following aspects:
1.1.- Geo-ecology of snow niches: observation of the distribution and geo-ecological evolution of the snow patches in Spain’s Sistema Central, locating, defining and monitoring the snowfields and icefields in the Sierras de Guadarrama and Gredos to detect changes in their surface area and internal dynamics.
1.2.- Permafrost: analysis of permafrost distribution and evolution in the Sierra Nevada, by locating, defining and monitoring the areas with permanent sub-superficial ice or permafrost. Study of the permafrost evolution and how it is related to global warming. Evaluating the influence of the snow cover and slope dynamics in the conservation of the frozen levels. Research carried out in collaboration with the University of Barcelona (Departamento de Geografía Física y A.G.R.).
2.- Reconstruction of the impact of climate change on the cryosphere, from the late Pleistocene to the present: studying the effects of climate evolution on the existing glacial mass in different mountains worldwide, from the late Pleistocene to the present day. Within this context four work strategies have been developed:
2.1.- Palaeo-glaciers in the Iberian Peninsula: evolution of ice masses in mountain ranges in the Iberian Peninsula (Pyrenees, Sistema Central and Sierra Nevada), from the late Pleistocene until their complete disappearance or reduction to their current size. This work is based on detailed geomorphologic analysis and absolute dating obtained by cosmogenic methods and optical luminescence techniques.
2.2.- Tropical glaciers: evolution of glacial masses in the central Andes and Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, from the late Pleistocene to the present day, applying the same methods as in the Iberian Peninsula with supporting lichenometric techniques to obtain recent dating. This is the aim of the work underway in the Nevado Coropuna, Ampato-Sabancaya-Hualca Hualca and Chachani volcanic complexes in southern Peru and on the Popocatépetl, Iztaccíhuatl, Pico de Orizaba and Colima stratovolcanoes in Mexico.
2.3.- High latitude glaciers: evolution of glacier fronts in polar regions, from the Little Ice Age to the present day. Evaluation of colonization by vegetation linked to the retreat of the ice masses and its effect on slope stabilization. Research carried out in collaboration with the Complutense University of Madrid (Departamento de Biología Vegetal II) in the Cordillera Darwin (Tierra de Fuego) and the Trollaskagi peninsula (Iceland), using lichenometric dating techniques.
2.4- Palaeoclimatology and prehistoric populations: influence of palaeoenvironmental conditions on population patterns in hunter-gatherer societies. Using geomorphologic records and palaeoclimatic data to generate tools to contextualize prehistoric archaeological evidence and assign chronologies to it.
3.- Hydrovolcanic risk assessment: analysis of risk situations linked to the interaction of volcanic activity and ice masses located on the great active tropical stratovolcanoes, including four main aspects:
3.1.- Observation of the distribution and evolution of permafrost in tropical high mountain volcanic regions: through the recording of ground temperature and the assessment of the volume of solid state hydric reserves for human use and as a risk factor. Work is currently underway to achieve this aim in the Nevado Coropuna and Chachani volcanic complexes (southern Peru) and on the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl stratovolcanoes (central Mexico).
3.2.- Reconstruction of lahar events and possible risk scenarios: analysis of catastrophic hydrovolcanic flow processes (lahars) occurring in active tropical volcanoes. Identifying risk scenarios resulting from the sudden fusion of glacier ice masses for tectonic, volcanic or climatic reasons. Research is underway on the Popocatépetl volcano (Mexico), applying GIS based geomorphologic techniques. Tests will also be carried out in the Valle del Colca (Peru), in collaboration with the Hydrology and Climate Change Group (Spanish National Research Council - CSIC).
3.3.- Producing lahar models: developing numerical simulations to forecast hydrovolcanic catastrophes in active volcanoes, in collaboration with the Mathematical Models in Engineering Research Group (ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos, UPM and CEDEX). To date, models have been developed for the Popocatépetl volcano (Mexico) and more tests are planned on the Colima volcano (Mexico) and the Nevado Coropuna volcanic complex (Peru).
3.4.- Analysis of the re-colonization and evolution of the vegetation cover on the slopes of the Popocatépetl volcano (Mexico) affected by recent hydrovolcanic flows: assessing slope stability through channel control and plot monitoring.