Forest fires in the Northern Alps and their impact on landscape development

Forest fires in the Northern Alps and their impact on landscape development

Start date: 01.01.2004
Duration: 2004-2010
Funded by: Universität Augsburg: 2004-2006; DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft): 2007-2010
Local project leader: Prof. Dr. A. Friedmann Prof. Dr. K.-F. Wetzel
External scientists / cooperations: Prof. Dr. Oliver Sass


In the last centuries, numerous forest fires devastated considerable parts of the subalpine krummholz and forest areas in the vicinity of Innsbruck. Because of the downwash of the exposed soil, some of the affected slopes are still bare of vegetation today. Intensified slope processes, a changed water balance and an increased probability of avalanches lead to a disturbed equilibrium and thus, to an enhanced risk of natural hazards in the vicinity of the slopes. The aim of the applied project is to investigate the location, the temporal distribution and the recurrence interval of the fires. We currently try to work out the ecosystem's regeneration potential under varying topographical and geological settings. Furthermore, the consequences for the alpine timberline, slope hydrology, denudation processes and thus, for the long-term landscape development are investigated.



Fig. 1: Die Auswirkungen von Bränden auf den Natur- und Kulturraum

The effects of wildfires on the natural and cultural environment

Impressionen aus den Untersuchungsgebieten / Impressions of our study areas


Fig. 2: Überblick über die Untersuchungsstandorte

Overview of the study sites


Fig. 3: Der nahezu kahle Südhang der Arnspitze bei Scharnitz (Brandjahr 1946)

The south slope of the Arnspitze near Scharnitz which burnt in 1946 and is still widely bare of vegetation today


Fig. 4: Am Kircheng'wänd wurden Kiefernbestände (Pinus silvestris) vom Feuer vernichtet; als Branddatum wird 1818 vermutet. Die völlige Bodenzerstörung ist gut zu erkennen.

Destroyed pine stand (Pinus silvestris) at the Kircheng'wänd; the fire supposedly occurred in 1818. The total loss of the soil cover is clearly recognisable.


Fig. 5: Vegetationskartierung am Brandhang "Issanger" (2003)

Vegetation mapping at the Issanger slope (burnt in 2003)


Fig. 6: Sedimentfalle zur Abtragsmessung auf dem Brandhang "Issanger" (2003)

Sediment trap for measuring removal on the Issanger slope (burnt in 2003)


Fig. 7: Bodenradar (GPR-) Messungen am Halslkopfmoor bei Achenkirch; die Messungen dienten der Vorbereitung von Sondierungen und Pollen-/Holzkohleanalysen

Ground-penetrating radar measurements at the Halslkopf mire near Achenkirch; the measurements were carried out in preparation for drilling and pollen/charcoal analysis

Publications related to the subject (selected):

  • Kloss, S., Sass, O., Geitner, C. & Prietzel, J. (2012a): Soil Properties and Charcoal Dynamics of Burnt Soils in the Tyrolean Limestone Alps. Catena 99: 75–82.

  • Sass, O., Heel, M., Leistner, I., Stöger, F., Wetzel, K.-F. & Friedmann, A. (2012b): Disturbance, geomorphic processes and regeneration of wildfire slopes in North Tyrol. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 37 (8): 883–889.

  • Sass, O., Haas, F., Schimmer, C., Heel, M., Bremer, M., Stöger, F. & Wetzel, K.-F. (2012c): Impact of forest fires on geomorphic processes in the Tyrolean Limestone Alps. Geografiska Annaler A94 (1): 117–133.

  • Sass, O., Heel, M., Haida, C., Bremer, M., Wetzel, K.-F. (2012d): Die Brandflächen an den Bettelwurf-Platten. In: Forum Hall in Tirol, Bd. 3, Verlag Ablinger.Garber, S. 46-59.

  • Sass, O., Heel, M., Hoinkis, R., Wetzel, K.F. (2010): A six-year record of debris transport by avalanches on a wildfire slope (Arnspitze, Tyrol). Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie 54 (2): 181-193.

  • Sass, O., Friedmann, A., Wetzel, K.-F. & Haselwanter, G. (2010): Investigating thickness and structure of alpine mires using conventional and geophysical techniques. Catena 80: 195-203.

  • Wetzel, K.-F., O. Sass & A. Friedmann (2007): Wildfires in the Northern Limestone Alps - the thin line between recovery and degradation. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 9, 07509, 2007.

  • Wetzel, K.-F., Sass, O. & Friedmann, A. (2006a): Landschaftsdynamik durch Waldbrände in den Nördlichen Kalkalpen. Nationalpark 133/3, 32-34.

  • Sass, O., Wetzel, K.-F. & Friedmann, A. (2006b): Landscape dynamics of sub-alpine forest fire slopes in the Northern Alps. Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie Suppl.Vol. 142: 207-227.