First insights into the age of the giant ice deposits in the Eisriesenwelt cave (Austria)

Christoph Spötl*, Jens Fohlmeister, Paula Reimer, Haiwei Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

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Frozen water is the most widespread type of ice present in ice caves and forms ice stalagmites and stalactites as well as floor ice, which is often several meters thick. Organic macroremains are commonly rare in this type of cave ice, which makes it difficult to establish a chronology and severely limits the use of such ice deposits as paleoenvironmental archives. Here, the chronology of such ice deposits in the inner part of the glaciated Eisriesenwelt, one of the world’s largest ice caves located in the European Alps of Austria, is determined by a combination of radiocarbon and 230Th dating of cryogenic calcite. The data suggest that this cave ice has formed over the last three millennia, with a marked increase in the average accumulation rate during the thirteenth century, coinciding with the onset of the Little Ice Age in the Alps. Data from a second site closer to the entrance suggests that large parts of this tourist cave were likely ice-free during the Medieval Warm Period and that a substantial part of the ice is probably a relic of the Little Ice Age. The current warming has already penetrated deeper into the cave than during the Medieval Warm Period, although air exchange during the warm season is restricted by a door at the cave entrance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11001
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date14 May 2024
Publication statusEarly online date - 14 May 2024


  • Radiocarbon
  • Cryogenic cave carbonate
  • Holocene
  • Ice cave


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