«I study the mountains to catch the signs of their subsidence caused by climate change and to prevent the risks they can bring to the populations». Marta Chiarle with the research group GeoClimAlp of the Institute for Hydrogeological Protection of the Cnr is the protagonist of the first catalog of the Italian Alps at high altitude, rich in data that photograph the situations in the different areas. “Due to the higher temperature – explains Chiarle – rock collapses occur that can trigger phenomena such as landslides with very dangerous consequences. The subsidence are indicators, they reveal how our peaks respond to the changing conditions determined for 90% by the warmer environment. The signal is now without uncertainty ».
She did research in the United States and Canada, then returned home
The operation made it possible to collect data from the last twenty years by considering previously ignored events at heights of over 1,500 meters by recording 508 signs of instability throughout the Alps, from landslides to ice. “Often – adds the scientist – other events that occur at lower altitudes escape, while it is necessary to have an overview to grasp the reality of the transformations underway, potential sources of danger, as well as harmful environmental alterations“. Marta Chiarle (55, born in Turin and studied in Turin) did research in the United States, in Denver, and in Canada, at the University near Vancouver, but then returned home. «I have always had a great passion for nature. And after imagining myself in agriculture or veterinary, I embraced geology, which led me to the world of research that I loved most; a passion shared with my husband, also a geologist ».
The higher you go, the more the sagging is evident
The investigations carried out so far show that the higher you go, even beyond 2,500 meters, the more the subsidence is evident. And despite being very high up they are potential sources of downward disaster. This is demonstrated by the case of 2017 when on the morning of 23 August a large landslide broke off the north-east face of the Pizzo Cengalo, Switzerland, at three thousand meters: from there was born an impressive flow of rocky debris estimated at about 4 million cubic meters which, descending, devastated the Val Bondasca, investing the town of Bondo. This did not happen suddenly, because already in the previous months there had been the first small failures without imagining what they could mean. More recently, last February, the separation of a part of a glacier in India, in the Himalayan area near the Nanda Devi National Park, caused a disaster similar to that of the Vajont in 1963. The great mass struck a dam and overwhelmed the towns in the vicinity, causing 150 victims. “The rocky fragments fill the streams with debris that become ruinous downstream,” explains the scientist of the CNR. «We must look carefully at the mountain to understand how it changes, avoiding risks, and adapting to the changing climate with which we have to live. Unfortunately, we still have very little knowledge and an international approach is necessary because the problem affects so many nations ».
The first online register of high altitude landslides
The map created so far is a starting point, a first online «land registry» of landslides altitude in the Italian Alps available on the web and which will be supplemented by research carried out also by some regions. Each investigated point is enriched with all the data that characterize the place and the phenomena. Merit of Marta. Who now smiles: “My passion for the mountains is great, perhaps excessive … since my two children have seen fit to take care of other things by choosing architecture and information technology”.