Distinguished figures of the italian glaciology


Antonio Stoppani (1824-1891)

Great observer and explorer. Although a human geographer, his passion for natural sciences led to great advancements on the scientific community. Multi-disciplinary researcher, Stoppani is considered the ‘Father’ of Italian Geology which was superbly explained in his greater work on natural sciences “Il Bel Paese” (The Beautiful Country) (1876). In Stoppani’s work we can find the first observations about Italian glaciers with peculiar informations about past and contemporary glacier dynamics. Stoppani made first observations about the spectacular outburst floods on two well studied italian glaciers: Ghiacciaio dei Forni and Ghiacciaio del Belvedere.


Carlo Somigliana (1860-1955)

First President of the Italian Glaciological Committee (1910-1953), after being President of the Italian Glaciological Commission. Great Physicist and Mathematician Carlo Somigliana was also an expert mountaineer. His passion for the mountains and his understanding of the physics were greatly combined when he derived a simple relationship to obtain ice-thickness estimates and bedrock morphologies from surface velocity data. Great leader of glaciological research in Italy, in 1914 started the publication of the Bollettino del Comitato Glaciologico Italiano. A simple and well defined program: collect with thorough scientific methodology the larger amount of observations about glacier physics, hydrology and morphology of our (our Italian) Alps.

(Extracted from the Journal of Glaciology (Vol. 2 October 1955 No. 18, p. 646).
Somigliana was highly respected at International level and its obituary was published by the British Geological Society in the 2nd issue of the Journal of Glaciology (page 646). ‘Carlo Somigliana, Professor Emeritus of the University of Turin, died on 20 June 1955 in his ninety-sixth year. Somigliana was internationally renowned as a mathematician and physicits and his contributions to theoretical glaciology were of considerable importance and interest. He developed a theory of glacier flow with the aim of finding a relationship and therefore a formula which would serve to determine the thickness of a glacier by means of its surface movement. The retreat of Rodano Glacier, on which observations of surface speed had previously been carried out by Swiss glaciologists, enabled Somigliana to calculate the value of the effective coefficient of viscosity of the glacier ice by means of the formulae of his theory and his knowledge of the profile of the valley bottom. The coefficient appears in the formula themselves. Somigliana’s formula has been widely applied, even recently, to determine the thickness of many glaciers. Direct evidence obtaine by other methods has confirmed its practical value.
Somigliana was the founder and President of the Comitato Glaciologico Italiano and for many years was its leading spirit. Much of his glaciological work was published in the Bullettin of that Society during the 1930’s but his famous “Sulla profondita’ dei ghiacciai” appeared in Rendiconti della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei as early as 1921.


Federico Sacco (1864-1948)

Great geologist of the Westedn Alps, Sacco founded the historic “Commission for the study of the italian glaciers” together with the Italian Alpine Club in 1985. For a long time he was the vice-president of the Italian Glaciological Committee. He wrote about a hundred of publications on glaciers and glaciation, Quaternary and contemporary. He was active supporter of the necessity of long-term, systematic, monitoring campaigns on glaciers. He thought that glaciers were sensitive probe for the climate. He promoted the use of photography to monitor glaciers. He mapped and explored glacial deposits which allowed reconstruction of past-glacial extent. Sacco lived through a period where many changes were observed in the Alpine glaciers: from the maximum extent of the Little Ice Age through the great retreat in the 1940s.


Olinto Marinelli (1874-1926)

Geographer, cartographer and tireless explorer, Olinto Marinelli followed the scientific career of his father Giovanni. He was a great master of landscapes and geomorphology and he summarize his knowledge in the great “Atlante dei tipi geografici (1922)” which has been recently (2004) updated..
Member of the Italian Glaciological Committee since its foundation. Marinelli worked on glaciers and glaciation through many drawings on the ‘Atlas’ and a great paper on the glaciers located in the Eastern Alps (Veneto).


Umberto Mónterin (1887-1940)

Excellent natural scientist, geographer and glaciologist. Monterin in 1925 took the role of the Director of the Geophysical and Meteorological Observational Site at Monte Rosa. In this institute he collected an impressive amount of historical, glaciological, meteorological and instrumental data on the mountain. The most ground-breaking part of his research was exploring the link between glacier variations and climate. Such a link was analyzed through the study of temperatures and precipitation data. Noticeable were also Monterin’s experiments at high-elevation on ablation and condensation. He was secretary of the CGI and director of many glaciological campaigns.


Giulio De Marchi (1890-1972)

Eminent hydraulic engineer, he was President of the Italian Glaciological Committee from 1955 to 1968, period in which the Inventory of the Italian Glaciers, granted to the direction of Giuseppe Nangeroni, was published. He got the chair of Hydraulics at the University of Pisa in 1922 ad was professor of Hydraulics at the Polytechnic of Milan from 1928 to 1965. He was confered the “honoris causa” degree at the University of Grenoble and at the Polytechnic of Zurich. He was vice-president of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences / Association internationale des sciences hydrologiques from 1948 to 1957.
Among the founders of the Italian Hydrographic Survey in 1920, he was its director up to 1931, giving a strong drive to the hydrometric monitoring of the basins conditioned by nivo-glacial regime, in sight of the design and the operation of several hydroelectric power plants that he studied thoroughly, contributing with important memoirs


Giuseppe Nangeroni (1892-1987)

Important Physical Geographer. Nangeroni studied the mountainous environment in its many forms. He conducted research on glacial geomorphology and contemporary glaciology. He was for a long time the President of the Scientific Committee of the Italian Alpine Club (Club Alpino Italiano, CAI) and leader of many other academic and scientific institutions. Nangeroni was also active for the Italian Glaciological Committee as glaciological surveyor and as director of the Lombardia sector. During the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958 he was president of the Working group which realized a detailed Italian Glacier Inventory. He wrote about 500 publications scientific, academic and for the broad public.

SMIRAGLIA C., In memoriam: Giuseppe Nangeroni (1892-1987)


Ardito Desio (1897-2001)

Ardito Desio was an example of a long life in Science. He was a master in many disciplines of the Earth Sciences, amongst these Glaciology. In 70 years of research in the Alps and other mountain chains of the Planet, Desio collected an impressive amount of descriptions and quantitative observations on glaciers. A great example was his work on the Ortles-Cevedale glaciers, a monumental book which includes decades of field observations. This work was published in 1967 and in that year Desio became President of the Italian Glaciological Committee, role that he mantained until 1975. He led glaciological activities, he brought life to the Bullettin and he organized many glaciological meetings (Bormio 1970, Courmayeur 1971, Trento 1973, Udine 1975).

OROMBELLI G., Ardito Desio and the Italian Glaciological Committee (CGI)
OROMBELLI G., Ardito Desio and his contribution to Physical and Geomorphology

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