Calling the Glacier

This guest post by Dr. Serafine Lindemann presents a digital environmental humanities-themed project by sound artist Kalle Laar, curated by Dr. Lindemann.

Images, static or in motion, are always spatially displaced representations of our reality. Before they can touch us emotionally this intrinsic distance has to be overcome. Sound knows no such barriers. Sounds reach the mind and the subconscious directly. Although this difference seems almost negligible, it is nonetheless essential.

The project series Call me! researches sounding signals of nature phenomena caused by climate change. Telecommunications technology is used to establish a real-time acoustic connection or, if this is technically impossible transmitting the sonic survey of one whole day. For any participant, active calling provides the possibility of individually experiencing locations normally unreachable and mostly neglected by headline news.

Pure information transfer is not the main issue with projects like Calling the Glacier, devoted to the melting ice around the world, or Defroster, focusing on the methane emissions of the permafrost regions in Siberia. Much more important is the individual emotional contact created by listening live to the sounds, unobtruded by any visuals. Activating this perspective in connection with social, political, and scientific aspects is the aim of Call me!

Calling the Glacier is a direct telephone connection to a glacier. A microphone installed on site transmits sounds from nature, directly and without editing, to the caller. You hear flowing water of varying intensity, sporadic cracking and other sounds, which a ‘living glacier’ utters with the change of seasons.


Photos of Calling the Glacier project. (c) Kalle Laar.
In the meantime the reality of climate change has reached a large part of the general public. The glaciers of this planet are a striking symbol of this change. They resemble giant living creatures, which are slowly and in many cases frighteningly quickly shrinking, literally leaking off and disappearing. Calling the Glacier invites the caller to get in touch. Of course, the glacier itself is not in a position to answer, but when a caller makes the decision to dial this number, he will find himself there, in real time, any time, from anywhere. The focus is not on sensational reporting from strange, far-away worlds, but on a personal experience of a process that concerns us all.


Calling card, Calling the Glacier project. (c) Kalle Laar.

For more information, including a list of related exhibitions, visit and


Glaciers as sensitive indicators of climate change: enhanced water yield from Vernagtferner, Oetztal Alps, Austria

by Dr. Ludwig Braun, Director of the Commission for Glaciology, Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Munich –

The Vernagtferner has been observed carefully since the year 1600, as it had shown numerous rapid advances into the Rofen valley, causing the formation of an ice-dammed lake which often drained catastrophically. The first detailed map of Vernagtferner was drawn in 1889 by S. Finsterwalder, with an accuracy comparable to modern maps, and since then glacier volume changes have been calculated, describing quantitatively the general retreat of this glacier since 1850 due to global warming. These results demonstrate the long history of scientific investigations of glacier behaviour and its relationship to climate conditions in the Ötztal Alps, Austria.

Annual glacier mass balances of the Vernagtferner have been determined by the Commission for Glaciology since 1964 using the direct glaciological method. Precipitation and other climatological variables, as well as discharge have been measured since 1974 at the gauging station “Pegelstation Vernagtbach.” This high alpine basin has an area of 11.4 km2, extends from 2640 m to a maximum elevation of 3630 m, and the glacier area decreased from about 10 km2 (88 %) in 1964  to 8 km2 (70 %) in 2006.

The drastic changes in runoff conditions demonstrate the impact of global change in this high alpine environment, and the monitoring efforts should be continued so that we have the footprint of this global experiment in progress also in the future. It also shows that we are presently living in a period of excess water yield from these high mountain regions, which will eventually fade away if the glaciers should disappear. Most alpine rivers then will run dry during hot summers with scarce precipitation – a situation that we are experiencing already today in the Po River basin, just to name one example.


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