Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch

Comparing photos from 1985, 2002 and 2015 documents the ecological succession of plants in terrain that has become ice-free during the last few decades.

Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1900, photo 1985
Since 1900 a larch forest has developed.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1900, photo 2002
The larches (Larix decidua) have grown in height as well as in width.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1900, photo 2015
The markers along the path have changed over the years as well...
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1920, photo 1985
Swiss stone pines (Pinus cembra, dark green) usually colonize terrain long after larches.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1920, photo 2002
Patches of Alpine grassland develops between the pines and larches.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1920, photo 2015
After several decades more, a fully grown pine forest will have established itself here.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1940, photo 1985
Since 1940 larches taller than a person have grown here.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1940, photo 2002
Meanwhile the larches block the view to glacier tongue at this location.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1940, photo 2015
Larches are followed by Swiss stone pines after several decades.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1950, photo 1985
Between willows and alder bushes the first small larches appear.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1950, photo 2002
Some larches are now already much taller than the willows.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1950, photo 2015
The glacier tongue is now hidden by the lush vegetation.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1960, photo 1985
Since 1960 hardly any confiers have grown.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1960, photo 2002
Between willos and alder the first larches appear.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1960, photo 2015
Proliferating willows and alder make access to the photo location more and more difficult.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1970, photo 2002
Within 15 years patches of Alpine plants have established themselves.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1970, photo 2015
Ground cover by vegetation increases. Willows, alder and larches colonize the ground as well.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1970, photo 1985
While the larches grow in hight, glacier recession accelerates.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1980, photo 2002
This location was still ice-covered in 1970.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 1980, photo 2015
The larch on the right side of the path grows quite quickly.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
In 2002 the avarage height of some of the tallest larches and Swiss stone pines was estimated. Swiss stone pines take about 40 years to colonize the land, whereas the first larches appear after only 10 years or so.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 2000, photo 2002
On this ground, ice-free only since two years, hardly any pioneer plants are visible.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Glacier front in 2000, photo 2015
Meanwhile some willows and various flowring plants have started to grow.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
In 2002 the percentage of ground covered by vegetation was estimated. Aereas with large boulders (>0.4m) were not considered. Within one century, about 85% are reached. Even outside the moraines from the Little Ice Age (before 1850) it is not much higher.
Ecological succession in the forefield of Vadret da Morteratsch
Morteratsch and Mount St. Helens
The idea to document vegetation changes in front of Vadret da Morteratsch was born, not near a glacier, but at Mount St. Helens volcano. Its eruption in 1980 destroyed large areas of forest. In 1988 J. Alean documented the starting re-colonization of the terrain by plants, and in 2001 the photos were repeated. The material is on STROMBOLI ON-LINE in the section on Mt. St. Helens in the chapter «Life returns». The treeline is considerably lower at Mount St. Helens (1500m.a.s.l. vs. 2200m at Vadret da Morteratsch). See also the virtual climb of Mount St. Helens.