RWTH Researchers Explore Glacier Retreat in Alaska

Copyright: © Christoph Stampfer

The aim of the researchers is to analyze the stability of rock slopes and assess the risk of future landslides on site.



Anja Dufresne

Senior Scientist


+49 241 80 96779



As part of a project funded by the German Research Foundation DFG, a team from the Chair of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology at RWTH Aachen University is currently in Alaska to investigate the effects of climate-induced glacier retreat, including the destabilization of rock slopes and the resulting damage.

In their research, Professor Florian Amann, Anja Dufresne, Pooya Hamdi, Emilie Lemaire, and Anna Rothäuser as well as physicist Professor Christoph Stampfer are focusing on the steep rock slopes above the Grewingk Glacier, Kachemak Bay State Park, which has melted and thinned by almost two kilometers over the last decades.

As a result, a deep glacial lake has formed in front of the glacier. In 1967, a rock avalanche of several million cubic meters detached itself from the southern slopes, which are extremely steep after the retreat of the glacier. The massive landslide slid into the lake, generating a highly destructive 60 meter tsunami wave. Since this event, the glacier retreat has exposed even much steeper rock slopes that rise up to 1000 meters above the glacial lake, showing clear signs of deep-seated rock instability.

The aim of the research project, carried out in close collaboration with geoscientists from Alaska, is to better understand the processes between glacier retreat, rock slope behavior, and destabilization, and thus to better be able to assess the risk of future landslides. State-of-the-art satellite technology will be used, as well as ground-based radar systems that can detect ground motion at millimeter scales. The ground-based radar systems are scheduled to be installed in the summer of 2022.