Share Stelvio

Contact: Andrea Lami
Case study 1: L.Bianco
Case study 2: L.Rosole
Case study 3: Bei Laghetti


In 2013 the SHARE project STELVIO saw its end. This three-year research program was supported by the Lombardy Region through Lombardy Foundation for the Environment (FLA) and EvK2CNR and was aimed to analyse and quantify the impacts of climate change on water, glaciers and atmosphere in the widest protected area in Lombardy: the Stelvio National Park (approx. 600 km2).

The SHARE STELVIO project is part of a broader international program of environmental monitoring at high altitude named SHARE (Stations at High Altitude for Research on the Environment) promoted by EvK2CNR and with the overarching objective to develop research concerning atmosphere, water (quality and quantity) and cryosphere in several mountainous areas of the planet and to provide high quality data (often in real time) to the scientific community as well as to the decision maker stakeholders.


Over the three years project duration, researchers from three institutes of CNR (ISAC, ISE and IRSA) and several universities in Lombardy (State University of Milan, Catholic University, University of Insubria and Milan Polytechnic) have collaborated to collect and interpret data from the highest and coldest part of the Stelvio National Park, where glaciers among the largest in Italy (such as the Forni Glacier with 11 km2 in area) and very thick ice buried under the rock and soil (permafrost) could be found. The water trapped, due to the prolonged low temperatures, feeds streams, rivers and lakes and this represent a relevant water input for middle and lower valley basins, contributing to the production of energy and helping to offset the summer low-flow. This water resource has also a relevant role in enhancing the attractiveness of the alpine area for tourists. Thus, these so peculiar environments constitute a valuable asset for the Lombardy Region and the alpine area as a whole.

Being a partner of this project, CNR-ISE has held various research activities related to assess water quality since aquatic ecosystems at high altitude are at the same time a valuable resource and good indicators to witness the climate change in progress.


In the Stelvio National Park up to 116 lakes (data refer to 2007) with an area greater than 800 m2 were identified, so this area qualify itself among the ones with high density of lakes across the entire Alpine range: an ideal site to study the impact of climate change and other human factors on water resources. The monitoring activity focused on hydrochemical parameters and on two different groups of organisms: macroinvertebrates and diatoms. These two groups are among the most sensitive to changes in water chemistry determined by atmospheric input or climate change, and are therefore able to provide information on the ecological quality of water resources. Chemical and biological data collected during the project have revealed the peculiarities of these waters: they are characterized by an extreme variability in their chemical composition, even in restricted area, where the biotic composition is strongly constrained by meteorology and climate or human impact due to the long-distance transport and subsequent re-deposition of pollutants.


The joint action between IRSA - CNR , UOS Brugherio , and CNR ISE has allowed to achieve the first lakes database of the Stelvio Park, describing their geographical features, as well as physical, chemical and ecological elements. In addition, by comparing satellite images and literature data, it was possible to reconstruct lakes evolution of these areas over the last 50 years.

Finally, it must be mentioned that, in addition to research effort dedicated to the analysis of high altitudes waters, as part of the SHARE Stelvio project, extensive research of interdisciplinary nature were conducted. An overall analysis of these data revealed a set of findings that, taken together, have enabled us to provide an overview of the evolution of these environments.


As an example, among these, the following points could be mentioned:

  • The 40% reduction of the glaciated surfaces over the last 50 years, associated with the discovery of a wood fossil relict at an altitude of 2400 m a.s.l. with an estimated age of about 4000 years, indicating that major fluctuations of the glacial masses occur today in relation to man action, but have also taken place in the past, in response to climatic factors.
  • As part of the studies on permafrost, at 3000 m a.s.l., a record depth of-235m was reached by drilling. This study has therefore opened up new scenarios in the impact of permafrost on high altitude hydrological circulation, as it was felt that the maximum thickness affected by permafrost in the Alps was limited to no more than 100 m. The data analysis will allow to reconstruct the history of the alpine climate of the last 200-300 years, previously unachievable at this altitude in Europe. 
  • The development of a meteorological- and climate-based model to provide forecast scenarios of the development of the cryosphere.
  • The high altitude air quality monitoring to highlight the impact of pollutants such as Black Carbon and Ozone, discharged at local / regional scale (Valtellina / Val Cedec / Po Valley).


In the end, it is important to highlight that, if these results represent key elements to define the current state of the natural resources in the Park, there is still an urgent need to carry out further researches on these issues. High altitude waters are in fact an essential element of the alpine landscape, they represent an attraction that stimulates and promotes tourism and are effective indicators of the global changes in progress. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain an adequate monitoring to evaluate the possible consequences of human impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services that such fragile habitats can provide.