Jungfrau-Aletsch protected area (officially Swiss Alps
Jungfrau-Aletsch) is located in south-western Switzerland between the cantons of Berne and Valais.
It is a
mountainous region in the easternmost side of the Bernese Alps, containing the northern wall of Jungfrau and Eiger, and the
largest glaciated area in western Eurasia, comprising the Aletsch Glacier.
The Jungfrau-Aletsch protected area is the
first World Natural
site in the Alps, it was inscribed in 2001.
Geography and climate
Jungfrau-Aletsch protected area is located in the Swiss Alps between the Bernese Oberland and north-eastern Valais, about 25 km
south of Interlaken and 20 km north of Brig. The site covers the whole Aar massif from the Oeschinensee in the west to the Grimselsee (not comprised) in the east, including the basins
of the Aletsch, Fiescher, Aar and Grindelwald glaciers.
culminating point is the Finsteraarhorn which, with its 4,270 metres, is also the highest
mountain in the Bernese
Alps. 8 other summits above 4,000 metres are
located in the area: Aletschhorn, Jungfrau, Mönch, Schreckhorn, Gross Fiescherhorn, Hinter Fiescherhorn, Grünhorn and Lauteraarhorn.
The valley of the Unteraar
The summit ridge separating the cantons of Valais and Berne is the
main watersheds of Europe. The principal valleys on the north side run
due north below the precipitous 20 kilometer north wall of the
Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger, thence to the Aar, a tributary
of the Rhine which runs
into the North Sea.
The southern valleys drain into the
southwest running valley of the Rhone
flows into the Mediterranean sea.
The climate of the region is strongly influenced by the height of
the mountains. They form a barrier between the wet sub-oceanic
climate of the north and the dryer climate of the south-facing
Valais slopes. On the north side the rainfall exceeds 2,200 mm,
most falling in summer, but on the south side it is only 1,000 mm,
with more falling in winter. The Valais experiences a
subcontinental climate at low and medium altitudes and is markedly
semi-arid. Mean annual temperatures range from -8.5°C at
Jungfraujoch (3,500 m) to 9.1°C at Brig (700 m).
The Jungfrau-Aletsch site is almost untouched, except for trails
and mountain huts. It is deeply glaciated. About half of the area
is higher than 2,600 metres, a few hundred metres lower than the
limit between the glaciers accumulation and ablation zones. The
total area coveved by glacier is 35,000 ha, it constitutes the
largest continuous area of ice in the Alps
largest and longest glacier in the Alps, the Aletsch Glacier is 23
km long and has a maximum thickness of 900 metres at Konkordiaplatz.
The protected site covers an area of 82,388 ha, comprising the
53,888 ha existing World Heritage Site plus extensions at both ends
totaling 28,500 ha. 56% is within the Canton of Valais, 44% within
the Canton of Berne.
Flora and fauna
Tree line of the Aletsch Forest (Pro
Glaciers and barren rock constitute 80% of the area; 6% is
forested, 5.2% is alpine meadow, and 8% is scrub. Altitude is the
strongest factor influencing the distribution and diversity of the
vegetation. Within the nominated area there are 1,800 species of
and 700 mosses
. The growing period decreases with altitude, but
there are 529 species of phanerogams
above the tree line
montane forest extends from 900m to 1,300m on north- facing slopes.
On south-facing slopes the same zone is approximately 200m higher.
The subalpine zone lies between 1,300m to 2,000m, between the
broadleaf and alpine zone. Characteristic species are the Swiss Pine
) and the
on the north and south side respectively. An example of Pinus
cembra forest is the Aletsch Forest above the Aletsch
Glacier and near the tree line.
It developed on the
moraine of the glacier after its maximum extension in 1850. The
zone directly above the tree line forms a girdle of moorland
vegetation and Alpine grassland.
have been recorded on the
site, including 271 vertebrates: 42 mammals, 99 birds, 8 reptiles,
4 amphibians, 7 fish, 97 molluscs plus 979 insects. As for the rest
of the Alps, common species are the chamois
), red deer
). Smaller mammals include the mountain hare
) and the
regions of the Bernese
Oberland and Valais had been
popular tourist destinations since the 19th century.
Jungfrau was first climbed in 1811 and the Finsteraarhorn in 1812.
The first tourists came mostly in
summer, but in the 1930s winter sports became also popular.
north side visitors are only able to visit the site via the
Jungfrau railway which lead to the Jungfraujoch.
So the site is both exceptionally
accessible to large nearby populations and rather inaccessible in
itself. The Jungfrau
railway was built between 1870 and 1912, taking visitors from
Scheidegg (2,061m) to Jungfraujoch (3,454m), the saddle
between the Mönch and
Jungfrau. On the south side the area of Riederalp-Bettmeralp concentrates most of the visitors.
inhabited regions on the margin are Kandersteg and the Lötschental (the Bietschhorn area) and the Oberhasli
The network of foot-paths is well
developed around the site but nonexistent inside, being
inaccessible to walkers. The site can be accessed by experienced
mountaineers and there is a series of 37 shelters and five mountain
refuges with a total of 1,582 beds, managed by the Swiss Alpine Club
. The Aletsch ecological
centre in Riederalp run by Pro Natura functions as a visitor
- 1933: The protection of the Aletsch forest is assumed by the
canton of Valais
The canton of Berne assumes the protection of the upper Lauterbrunnen Valley
- 1983: The Bernese Alps are included on the Federal
Inventory of Landscapes and Natural Monuments, with a revision
of the area in 1998
- 2001: The area is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list
under the name Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn
- 2007: Extension of the site, new name Swiss Alps
- Approval of site extension and management plan for
Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn World Natural Heritage, DETEC.
Retrieved on 2009-10-18