• Tobias HeckmannEmail author
  • David Morche
  • Michael Becht
Part of the Geography of the Physical Environment book series (GEOPHY)


Mountain regions are both sensitive to and disproportionally affected by recent climate change. Among the most important and most visible changes is glacier retreat. The latter entails the exposure of formerly glaciated terrain to subaerial conditions, with implications for hydrological, geomorphic and ecological processes. The geomorphic response to deglaciation has been conceptualised in paraglacial geomorphology, encompassing spatial and temporal changes in the activity of geomorphic processes, slope instability, and the build-up and depletion of sediment storage landforms. The transitional character of these adjustments to deglacial condition has been highlighted in recent research. In this chapter, we propose and discuss the definition of proglacial areas as the area that has been deglaciated since the glacial highstands at the end of the Little Ice Age. We then summarise the geomorphic response to deglaciation and recent geomorphological research in proglacial areas; based on this literature review, we identify avenues of future research. These include (i) investigations extending further into the past based on historical imagery; (ii) the assessment of the relative importance of glacial vs. non-glacial processes; (iii) the role of direct, local climate change impacts vs. the transient response to deglaciation; and (iv) the potential propagation of local geomorphic changes (with connectivity being an important system property moderating this propagation) with potential downstream effects on hydropower generation, freshwater ecosystems and natural hazards. Observing and understanding past- and present-day changes may provide templates for likely responses to future changes. The PROSA project conducted from 2012–-2017 in the proglacial area of the Gepatsch glacier, Central Austrian Alps, forms the framework of several case studies presented in the present volume; therefore, we briefly outline the joint project, its study area, research problems and methods.


Climate change Glacier retreat Little ice age Paraglacial PROSA project 



The editors wish to thank all contributors who dedicated their time to make this book possible. Besides the chapter authors, we highly appreciate the efforts of the following colleagues (in alphabetical order) who reviewed the chapters and gave valuable advice to significantly improve the manuscripts: Jean-Baptiste Bosson, Jonathan Carrivick, Francesco Comiti, Michele D’Amico, Adam Emmer, Isabelle Gärtner-Roer, Wilfried Haeberli, Oliver Korup, Michael Krautblatter, Ingolf Kühn, Christophe Lambiel, Frédéric Liébault, Sven Lukas, Luca Mao, John Matthews, Sam McColl, Ronald Pöppl, Lothar Schrott, Jeff Warburton and Matt Westoby. The authors thank the German and Austrian Science Foundations (DFG and FWF) for funding the PROSA project (subproject numbers DFG 209753023, 209752370 and 209752836, see


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physical GeographyCatholic University of Eichstätt-IngolstadtEichstättGermany
  2. 2.University of Halle-WittenbergHalleGermany
  3. 3.Environmental Authority of Saalekreis DistrictMerseburgGermany

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