An Alpine and Glacial Geology course taught in Innsbruck, Austria

This page previously served as an advertisement for a course on Alpine and Glacial Geology (EES 2096)
in the University of New Orleans-Innsbruck study-abroad summer program. Railsback taught the course
in 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2008. The course is presently taught by someone else, and so
this page is now only archival.


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Course Description:

The Alpine and Glacial Geology (EES 2096) course taught by Railsback covered mountain-building processes and the world's different kinds of mountains and mountain ranges. Naturally, we looked in some detail at the geology of the Alps. The course also covered glaciers, glaciation, glacial deposits, glaciated landscapes, and earth's glacial history.

The course was intended as a very real-world experience. There were of course lectures on basic geology, tectonic processes that generate mountains, glaciation, and alpine ecology. However, there were also several afternoon field trips. On those trips we went up into the mountains around Innsbruck or to glacial deposits in the Inn Valley. We also had a one day-long bus trip to an active glacier above Obergurgl in the Ötztal Alps. The Obergurgl Trip is one of the highlights of the summer for most participants. The field trips required some walking and occasionally a little scrambling over rough terrain, but they definitely were not rugged climbing trips. It may be reassuring to know that the instructor himself is something of an acrophobe.

Innsbruck and the Austrian Land of Tirol are naturally a great place for this course. Innsbruck is in the Inn River Valley, where the Sill River coming down from the Brenner Pass joins the Inn. Just to the north of the Inn Valley are the Limestone Alps or Calcareous Alps; just to the south of the Inn Valley are the Metamorphic Alps.

The photo at upper left shows two of Innsbruck's landmarks, the Inn River bridge from which the city took its name and the Jakobsdom (or Cathedral of St. Jacob). About halfway up the left tower of the cathedral, you'll see the top of a sloping terrace that extends across much of the slide. That terrace is made of glacially-related sediments that we explore in our field trips. Further back and higher in the backgound are the Limestone Alps themselves, into which we make a field trip via the Hungerburg cable car.

The course has no prerequisites and is taught in English to mostly, if not entirely, American students. We began by covering enough basic geology about minerals, rocks, and geologic structures that we could understand each other. Then we covered plate-tectonics and mountain-building processes, glaciers, and glaciation, mass wasting, and alpine ecology. A solid high-school science background and/or some college science courses, an interest in and willingness to learn about the mountains, and a sturdy pair of shoes can get anyone through the course in good form.

Because both Railsback and his students have been frustrated at the lack of textbook appropriate for the course, he has generated a photocopy-and-bind textbook on Alpine and Glacial Geology for the course. It was used for the first time in the summer of 2007, and the second edition was used in 2008.

There is also a Physical Geology course (EES 1000) in the UNO-Innsbruck program. As taught by Railsback, it is more classroom-oriented than field-oriented, and it covers a more traditional slate of geological topics, rather than specializing in alpine and glacial geology. The afternoon field trips for the Alpine and Glacial course are optional for students taking the Physical Geology course.


View Images from Innsbruck and Tirol:

A Trip Down the Inn - a series of about 107 images.

A Walk up Maria Theresien Strasse - a series of eleven images.

Still more images from the ground.

Images of Tirol from space.

The building in which UNO-Innsbruck classes meet (and note the Calcareous Alps behind).


Map Diagrams and images used in the course:

Some of the illustrations used in this course.

Some of the slides used in this course.


Pair of Images The Tirol Glacier Image Collection Project:

This is a project to collect early photographs of glaciers in the Tirol and to take modern photographs for comparison. The project is an outgrowth of Railsback's teaching and hiking with the UNO-Innsbruck program.


Map Links to other Web resources about glaciers and glaciation:

Tom Lowell's Glacier Image Database at the University of Cincinnati.

Jüng Alean and Michael Hambrey's Glaciers Online.

A presentation on glacial processes from Dr. Linda Barrett at the University of Akron.

The Illustrated Glossary of Alpine Glacial Landforms by Dr. Karen A. Lemke (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) and Dr. Linda Freeman (College of the Siskiyous).

Dr. William W. Locke's Glossary of Important Terms in Glacial Geology at Montana State University.

U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386: Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World.
      1386h: Glaciers of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, and New Zealand.
      1386i: South America.

Chapter 9 - the glacial chapter - of Geomorphology from Space, a NASA publication from 1986 (and thus generally not as photogenic as more recent images, but with some good stuff).


View Going Places and Doing Things in and around Innsbruck:.

Eating Out.

Riding the Bus.

Riding Trains.

Walking the Streets.


Map Hiking:

Some favorite hikes and day trips.

A crude map of the area around Innsbruck

Herr Professor Doktor Railsback in the Calcareous Alps above Innsbruck.

The same on the Obergurgl hike, with one of his most attentive students.


View Innsbruck weather:

Tiscover Weather's forecast.

The BBC's forecast.

Weather.com's forecast.

The Weather Underground's forecast.


Train Image Travel:

The Austrian Rail System (ÖBB).
The German Rail System (DeutscheBahn).
The Italian Rail System (Ferrovie).
The The Zillertal Train System (Jenbach to Mayrhofen).

Busses in Innsbruck (IVB) (look for the "liniennetzplan" in the sitemap.
Busses in and around Innsbruck (IVB and VVT)
Post-Busses (IVB).



Syllabus for GEOL 2096 (pdf) and Syllabus for GEOL 1001 (pdf) for 2003.
Syllabus for GEOL 2096 (pdf) and Syllabus for GEOL 1001 (pdf) for 2004.

Railsback has a roughly fifty-minute slide-illustrated talk on "A Simple Geologist's View of the Northern Alps near Innsbruck, Austria" that he can give to interested groups. It assumes, but doesn't absoluely require, that listeners are familiar with basic rock types and very rudimentary geology. It is not a talk for advanced undergraduate or specialists.

The University of New Orleans-Innsbruck summer school program.

UGA's page about the UNO-Innsbruck summer program.

Universität Innsbruck.
          UIBK Geology & Paleontology
          UIBK Mineralogy and Petrography
          UIBK High-Mountain Research.

Stadt Innsbruck (warning: a browser-crasher).

Bruce Railsback's main page .

Email to Bruce Railsback

UGA Geology Home Page