EGU21-12588, updated on 04 Mar 2021
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Ground thermal contrasts and variability at an alpine pyramidal peak in central Austria (Innerer Knorrkogel, Venediger Mountains)

Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer and Gerhard Karl Lieb
Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer and Gerhard Karl Lieb
  • Institute of Geography and Regional Science, The mountain processes and mountain hazards group (Cascade), University of Graz, Graz, Austria (

Ground temperatures in alpine environments are severely influenced by slope orientation (aspect), slope inclination, local topoclimatic conditions, and thermal properties of the rock material. Small differences in one of these factors may substantially impact the ground thermal regime, weathering by freeze-thaw action or the occurrence of permafrost. To improve the understanding of differences, variations, and ranges of ground temperatures at single mountain summits, we studied the ground thermal conditions at a triangle-shaped (plan view), moderately steep pyramidal peak over a two-year period (2018-2020).

We installed 18 monitoring sites with 23 sensors near the summit of Innerer Knorrkogel (2882m asl), in summer 2018 with one- and multi-channel datalogger (Geoprecision). All three mountain ridges (east-, northwest-, and southwest-facing) and flanks (northeast-, west-, and south-facing) were instrumented with one-channel dataloggers at two different elevations (2840 and 2860m asl) at each ridge/flank to monitor ground surface temperatures. Three bedrock temperature monitoring sites with shallow boreholes (40cm) equipped with three sensors per site at each of the three mountain flanks (2870m asl) were established. Additionally, two ground surface temperature monitoring sites were installed at the summit.

Results show remarkable differences in mean annual ground temperatures (MAGT) between the 23 different sensors and the two years despite the small spatial extent (0.023 km²) and elevation differences (46m). Intersite variability at the entire mountain pyramid was 3.74°C in 2018/19 (mean MAGT: -0.40°C; minimum: -1.78°C; maximum: 1.96°C;) and 3.27°C in 2019/20 (mean MAGT: 0.08°C; minimum: -1.54°C; maximum: 1,73°C;). Minimum was in both years at the northeast-facing flank, maximum at the south-facing flank. In all but three sites, the second monitoring year was warmer than the first one (mean +0.48°C) related to atmospheric differences and site-specific snow conditions. The comparison of the MAGT-values of the two years (MAGT-2018/19 minus MAGT-2019/20) revealed large thermal inhomogeneities in the mountain summit ranging from +0.65° (2018/19 warmer than 2019/20) to -1.76°C (2018/19 colder than 2019/20) at identical sensors. Temperature ranges at the three different aspects but at equal elevations were 1.7-2.2°C at ridges and 1.8-3.7°C at flanks for single years. The higher temperature range for flank-sites is related to seasonal snow cover effects combined with higher radiation at sun-exposed sites. Although the ground temperature was substantially higher in the second year, the snow cover difference between the two years was variable. Some sites experienced longer snow cover periods in the second year 2019/20 (up to +85 days) whereas at other sites the opposite was observed (up to -85 days). Other frost weathering-related indicators (diurnal freeze-thaw cycles, frost-cracking window) show also large intersite and interannual differences.

Our study shows that the thermal regime at a triangle-shaped moderately steep pyramidal peak is very heterogeneous between different aspects and landforms (ridge/flank/summit) and between two monitoring years confirming earlier monitoring and modelling results. Due to high intersite and interannual variabilities, temperature-related processes such as frost-weathering can vary largely between neighbouring sites. Our study highlights the need for systematic and long-term ground temperature monitoring in alpine terrain to improve the understanding of small- to medium-scale temperature variabilities.

How to cite: Kellerer-Pirklbauer, A. and Lieb, G. K.: Ground thermal contrasts and variability at an alpine pyramidal peak in central Austria (Innerer Knorrkogel, Venediger Mountains), EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-12588,, 2021.