Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 1281–1293 | Cite as

Recent evolution of damage to infrastructure on permafrost in the French Alps

  • Pierre-Allain DuvillardEmail author
  • Ludovic Ravanel
  • Marco Marcer
  • Philippe Schoeneich
Original Article


The past four decades have seen extensive development of the winter sport industry in the French Alps and several hundred ropeway transport systems have been installed in areas where mountain permafrost may be present. Due to current climatic change and the ensuing permafrost degradation, the vulnerability of these infrastructures to destabilization may increase. Therefore, there is a real potential for instabilities to develop on ropeway transport systems in the Alps, requiring a better understanding of these processes. This study investigates the relation between permafrost and infrastructure stability in the French Alps, seeking to understand the evolution of this phenomenon over the past decades. This was done by following a two-step analysis. At first, the infrastructure elements built on modeled permafrost-affected areas were inventoried at the scale of the French Alps in order to get an overview of the possible vulnerabilities. Then, our study presents a detailed historical inventory of damage to infrastructure over the past three decades in different geomorphologic contexts. Overall, in the French Alps, there are almost 1000 infrastructure elements located in permafrost areas among which 12 (i.e., 24 infrastructure elements) were identified to have been subject to repeated instances of disruption and deterioration and most of the damages recorded were in areas where permafrost degradation is fully expected (ice-rich terrain). Infrastructure recovery costs may be significantly high, making this issue a relevant consideration to be included in the design process.


Mountain permafrost Infrastructures Damages Climate change French Alps 



The authors would like to thank the operators and managers of the infrastructure that has been included in the study, for all the information they have provided. We also thank the four Master’s degree students and T. Echelard who have made extensive contributions to the damage documentation work (Y. Bertel, P. Ustache, J. Vella and G. Weible). Thanks also to Neil Brodie and Hilary Dyer for improving the English. Finally, we would like to thank the reviewers and editors M. Phillips and C. Huggel for their helpful and critical review to improve the quality of the paper. This study was conducted with the help of Domaine Skiable de France and Cluster Montagne.

Funding information

P.-A. Duvillard’s PhD fellowship was supported by a grant from Ingénierie des Mouvements du Sol et des Risques Naturels (IMSRN) and the Association Nationale de la Recherche et de la Technologie (ANRt). The work is part of the EU POIA PermaRisk project, co-funded by the ERDF.

Supplementary material

10113_2019_1465_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Grenoble Alpes/Université Savoie Mont-Blanc, CNRSLe Bourget du LacFrance
  2. 2.IMSRNMontbonnotFrance
  3. 3.Université Grenoble Alpes, Institut d’Urbanisme et de Géographie Alpine, PACTEGrenobleFrance

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