Have you ever heard the sound of falling rocks?
A story about an ecosystem that’s changing and the work of those who’ve dedicated a significant portion of their lives to seeking possible solutions
“Have you ever heard the sound of falling rocks?” is a six-month journey across the Alps, taking in Italy, France, Switzerland and Austria. A visual investigation of a phenomenon that is as important as it is little known: the degradation of the permafrost. This project is a story about an ecosystem that’s changing and the work of those who’ve dedicated a significant portion of their lives to seeking possible solutions. The principal themes that emerge are resilience, a spirit of adaptability and a commitment to scientific research that highlights the human and professional qualities of those involved: important testimonies and models for future generations. Over the course of the 20th century, temperatures in the Alps increased by 2°C, twice the average for the entire planet.
Shorter winters, reduced snowfall and melting glaciers are just some of the effects that global warming has had on the Alps. However, there are also a number of less visible effects, those that are more difficult to perceive but which have a dramatic impact on the health of one of the most important, and most fragile, ecosystems on Earth. Included among these is the degradation of the permafrost, the surface section of the Earth’s crust that’s closest, and therefore most impacted by, all the phenomena occurring within the atmosphere. Its degradation, caused by the thawing of the ice it contains, leads to slope instability and changes in the hydrogeological balance with serious repercussions for the surrounding area.
The ice contained within rock fissures acts like cement, holding parts of the mountain together, but as temperatures rise and the frozen ground thaws the stability is reduced leading to a potential increase in landslides and collapses, events that are becoming increasingly common throughout the Alps. The effects of these changes are not only impacting the environment, they’re also having an impact on the Alpine communities that have lived within this delicate ecosystem for centuries.
“Mountains, and the Alps in particular”, the photographer explains, “have always played a major role in my life. On foot, on skis, with crampons and an ice axe or hanging from a rope, I’ve traversed them far and wide for years. The loneliness you can breathe there, the sensation of being powerless in the face of their sheer size, but also their hidden fragility, are just some of the things that have enchanted me about the alpine environment ever since I was a child. But I’ve seen them change over the years. I’ve seen slopes collapse, streams swell fiercely, snowfalls change dramatically, glaciers retreat, the rock face become more unstable, animals change their habits, and humans having to adapt to different weather conditions and increasingly extreme weather events.”
“Have you ever heard the sound of falling rocks?” was supported by ISPA and developed in collaboration with various organisations and public administrative bodies, including: ARPA Piemonte (Regional Environmental Protection Agency of Piedmont), the University of Bozen-Bolzano, the Edmund Mach Foundation, the Savoy Mont Blanc University, Provincia di Trento (Trento Provincial Council), Museo di Scienze Naturali di Verona (Verona Natural Sciences Museum), SLF Suisse (Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research) and the University of Milano-Bicocca.