Willkommen an der VAW / Welcome to VAW
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2 - 3 February 2017
Alpine Glaciology Meeting 2017 (AGM2017)

Swiss glacier monitoring network

Glacier Hazards
Inventory of hazardous glaciers in Switzerland

Live pictures from swiss glaciers

Weekly Glaciology Seminar

VAW in the Media



More than 30 years of Glaciology at VAW

In 1941 the ”Institut für Gewässerkunde” (Institute for Hydrology) at the ETH in Zurich (led by Prof. O. Lütschg) was moved to the VAW and renamed the ”Abteilung für Hydrologie” (with Dr. E. Hoeck as head, 1941 to 1951). 

During the planning stages for large hydraulic dams in the Swiss Alps in the 1950s and ’60s, a number of glacier-related issues had to be taken into consideration. It was during this period that glaciological investigations became an important focus of the work being done at the former Section for Hydrology at VAW/ETH Zurich (headed by Prof. P. Kasser, 1951 to 1979). For this reason the Hydrology Section was renamed “Abteilung für Hydrologie und Glaziologie” in 1961.

Because hydro-electric power plants and tourist facilities were increasingly being constructed in zones previously avoided, glacier hazard assessment considerations gained very much in importance at the former Section for Hydrology and Glaciology at VAW/ETH. This was clearly demonstrated after the occurrence of the Allalingletscher ice avalanche in 1965, which destroyed the construction site of the Mattmark hydraulic dam and claimed 88 victims.

Glaciology at VAW/ETH Zurich won international scientific recognition in 1973 for the new theory on water flow in intra- and subglacial channels put forth by Hans Röthlisberger. In the following years this group at the VAW published outstanding scientific contributions in glacier hydrology and glacier mechanics.

As a direct result of the growing importance of glaciological issues, the Section for Glaciology at VAW (VAW/Glaciology) was established in 1979 (headed by Prof. H. Röthlisberger, 1979 to 1988).


Since that time, VAW/Glaciology has pursued the following activities:

Basic Research

The strength of VAW/Glaciology has always been the investigation of processes in physical glaciology. Field studies applying the best methods available are carried out, often under challenging conditions. The results are analyzed and interpreted using theoretical and numerical models.

Applied Studies (Consulting)

VAW/Glaciology regularly investigates glacier-related issues in connection with risk management and measures for protection against natural hazards. Such studies are often conducted on behalf, and for the benefit of local authorities, power companies, and tourist operations.

Fluctuations of Glaciers (Glacier Monitoring)

For more than four decades, data on glacier variations in the Swiss Alps have been collected, evaluated, and published by VAW/Glaciology. It is thanks to these studies that the longest and most extensive database worldwide on glacier variations has been made publicly available for use in scientific studies.


The above key topics have been under continuous investigation at VAW/Glaciology. The interplay between monitoring, applied studies and basic research fostered many new insights and developments in the field of glaciology.


Three former VAW scientific collaborators were awarded the Seligman Crystal of the International Glaciological Society for groundbreaking contributions to glaciology:
Hans Röthlisberger (1992)
Kolumban Hutter (2003)
Almut Iken (2011)


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