About Italian glaciers

The Italian glacier inventory. An important tool, which needs constant updating.

Glacier inventories are important tools, which allow the quantification of glacier areas and glacier volumes. Repeated glacier inventories allow estimates of deglaciation and improve significantly our understanding of the sea level rise induced by melting ice. Here we introduce the Glacier Inventories, which were made in Italy. In our description we mention the number of glaciers described in each inventory. We however redirect interested reader to those studies, which quantified the global area and volume of Alpine glaciers since the number of glaciers itself might be misleading since one big glacier can split into several units during its retreat phase. Additionally the definition itself of a glacier might be different from author to author (e.g. one Inventory might count only glaciers > 0.02 km2 whereas another considers only glaciers >0.05 km2).

The oldest inventory for the Italian glaciers – The oldest inventory for the Italian glaciers was complied by Porro in 1925. Shortly after Porro and Labus (1927) published the first Atlas of the Italian Glaciers. This systematic work on the Italian glaciers is amongst the first examples of Glacier Inventories. The first Inventory reports 774 glaciers, represented in 4 maps at the 1:500.000 scale. In this list 773 glaciers were in the Alps whereas only 1 (il Ghiacciaio del Calderone) was reported in the Appennines. Ghiacciaio del Calderone, in the Gran Sasso Massif is amongsts the southernmost glaciers in Europe.
Porro, C. (1925) – Elenco dei Ghiacciai Italiani. Parma, Ufficio Idrografico del Po, 61 p. (PDF)
Porro, C. e Labus P. (1927) – Atlante dei Ghiacciai Italiani. Firenze, Istituto Geografico Militare. (PDF)

The CGI-CNR Inventory – The 1959 CGI-CNR Inventory was the second prominent Inventory. This Inventory was supported by the National Research Council (CNR) and was undertaken during the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). The Italian Glaciological Committee (CGI) published the inventory in four tomes (CGI-CNR, 1959; 1962). The glaciers were represented on IGM topographical maps (1:25000). The CGI-CNR inventory included 838 glaciers, which existed at the end of the 1950s. The inventory also reported 190 glaciers that disappeared from the previous inventory. In total 1028 glaciated units were documented.
The CGI-CNR also had a geographical characterization. In the Italian Alps the following sectors were defined:
– 322 glaciers in Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta (Western Alps)
– 185 glaciers in Lombardia (Central Alps)
– 330 glaciers in the ‘TriVeneto’ (Eastern Alps)

The meltwater generating from these sectors was also summarized. 534 glaciers contributed to the hydrological regime of Po, 255 glaciers to Adige and the remaining 48 glaciers belonged to other hydrological basins. The southernmost Italian Glacier Ghiacciaio del Calderone was still the only glacier in the Appennine.

Comitato Glaciologico Italiano – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (1959) – Catasto dei Ghiacciai Italiani, Anno Geofisico Internazionale 1957-1958. Elenco generale e bibliografia dei ghiacciai italiani. Comitato Glaciologico Italiano, Torino, v. 1, 172 p.
– Parte I: Elenco dei ghiacciai italiani (PDF)
– Parte II: Bibliografia dei ghiacciai italiani (PDF)
– Carta 1: Carta schematica dei ghiacciai del Piemonte e della Valle d’Aosta (PDF)
– Carta 2: Carta schematica dei ghiacciai della Lombardia (PDF)
– Carta 3: Carta schematica dei ghiacciai delle Tre Venezie (PDF)

Comitato Glaciologico Italiano – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (1961a) – Catasto dei Ghiacciai Italiani, Anno Geofisico Internazionale 1957-1958. Ghiacciai del Piemonte. Comitato Glaciologico Italiano, Torino, v. 2, 324 p.
Comitato Glaciologico Italiano – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (1961b) – Catasto dei Ghiacciai Italiani, Anno Geofisico Internazionale 1957-1958. Ghiacciai della Lombardia e dell’Ortles-Cevedale. Comitato Glaciologico Italiano, Torino, v. 3, 389 p.
Comitato Glaciologico Italiano – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (1962) – Catasto dei Ghiacciai Italiani, Anno Geofisico Internazionale 1957-1958. Ghiacciai delle Tre Venezie (escluso Ortles-Cevedale) e dell’Appennino. Comitato Glaciologico Italiano, Torino, v. 4, 309 p.

World Glacier Inventory (WGI 1981-84)
Serandrei-Barbero and Zanon (1993) reported the presence of 1397 glaciers in the Italian Alps. The data were obtained from the WGI and corresponded to an areal extension of 608 km2. The division for sectors was 531 glaciers for Piemonte, 305 for Lombardia and 560 in the ‘Triveneto’. Zemp et al., 2000 had a slightly different estimate (1368 glaciers, 602.4 km2) and this difference might be imputable to those glaciers located at the boundary between Italy and different countries.

  • Serandrei-Barbero R. e Zanon G. (1993) – The Italian Alps, in: Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World – Europe, edito da R.S. Williams e J. G. Ferrigno, USGS Professional Paper 1386-E, Washington D.C.
  • Zemp, M., F. Paul, M. Hoelzle and W. Haeberli. (2008) – Glacier Fluctuations in the European Alps, 1850-2000. In Darkening Peaks: Glacier Retreat, Science and Society, eds. B. Orlove, E. Wiegandt and B.H. Luckman, 152-167. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. (www.geo.uzh.ch/~mzemp/Docs/Zemp_etal_UCP_2007.pdf).

The 1989 CGI Inventory – An update of the 1959 CGI-CNR Inventory was needed. For this reason the Minister of the Environment supported a photogrammetrical campaign across the entire Italian Alps. During the campaign ‘Volo Italia 1988-1989’ it was possible to document all the glaciers with dimensions greater than 0.05 km2. Ajassa et al., 1987 reported the presence of 787 glaciers which had a total areal distribution of 474 km2.

  • Ajassa R., Biancotti A., Biasini A., Brancucci G., Caputo C., Pugliese F., Salvatore M.C. (1994) – Catasto dei ghiacciai italiani: primo confronto tra i dati 1958 e 1989. Il Quaternario, 7 (1), 497-502. (PDF)
  • Ajassa R., Biancotti A., Biasini A., Brancucci G., Carton A. & Salvatore M.C. (1997) – Changes in the numberand area of Italian Alpine glaciers between 1958 and 1989. Geogr. Fis. Dinam. Quat., 20 (2), 293-297.

New Italian Glacier Inventory, G. Smiraglia & G. Diolaiuti eds. (2015) – Project realized at the “Ardito Desio” Earth Science Department of the University of Milan (henceforth UNIMI) by the Glaciology staff. The project was developed within the
framework of the cooperation among UNIMI, Sanpellegrino Spa – brand Levissima and the Ev-K2-CNR Association and with the contribution of the Italian Glaciological Committee. It is based on the analysis of high resolution color orthopho- tos which were acquired in the time frame 2005-2011. In the New Italian Glacier Inventory 903 glaciers are described, covering a total area of 369.90 km2. A first comparison between the total area reported in this inventory and the value reported in the CGI –CNR Inventory (1959-1962) suggests an overall reduction of the glacier coverage of about 30% (from 526.88 km2 in the Sixties to 369.90 km2 in the present time). A second comparison was performed with the WGI (World Glacier Inventory) dataset which in the Eighties listed 1381 Italian glaciers covering a total area of 608.56 km2. This comparison suggests a loss of 478 glaciers and an area reduction of 238.66 km2 (-39 %).

Comments are closed.