What makes a mountain?
Austria boasts countless mountains, but when can an elevation officially be called a mountain? The relevant criteria are: dominance and prominence.
Topographic dominance – sometimes referred to as topographic isolation - indicates a peak which stands out as a unique feature and is separated from the nearby peak or peaks. Mount Grimming is relatively isolated between the Ennstal valley and the Salzkammergut, and at 2,351m is considered Europe’s highest freestanding mountain.
Also of importance in achieving mountain status is its prominence. Topographic prominence indicates how much higher one peak is compared to others nearby. In the Alps, a peak must be 110m to 300m higher than a neighbouring one to be considered a mountain in its own right.
Where do mountains get their names from?
Kahlenberg, Mittagskogel or Gjaid Alm – mountains seem to be named arbitrarily – but of course, it’s not just casual chance. Firstly, the shape has relevance to their name: is it round or pointed, does it resemble a ‘head’ or a ‘ridge’? The flora growing on the mountain is also a defining criterion – for example: 'Grasberg' (grassy mountain) or 'Zirbenkogel' (pine peak). Some mountains, such as 'Nebelstein' (foggy peak) or 'Wetterkreuz' (weather peak) are named after the weather. Others derive their names from the position of the sun, such as 'Mittagskogel' (noon peak) or 'Zwölferspitz' (twelve o’clock peak).
When I grow up, I want to be a mountain
Even though, at times, mountains seem to grow endlessly up into the sky, they reach their natural limit at around 9,000m. Why is this? The collision of the continental plates causes mountains to form and gives them their shape; subsequently eroding, developing cracks, or beginning to crumble away. Atmospheric conditions, too, play a role in disintegration as rain, wind, and weather erode the rock. Furthermore, if mountains were higher, they would also be heavier and break through the crust of the earth.
How do glaciers form?
The formation of glaciers depends on two criteria, precipitation and temperature. Glaciers can only form where there is an abundance of snow and where most of the precipitation falls as snow. Therefore, the temperature needs to be low to prevent the fallen snow from melting, thus providing a foundation for the fresh snow. In this way, the under layer of snow grows and becomes compacted by the weight of the fresh snow above it. The pressure changes the structure of the crystals, and the distinctive fluffy snowflakes are transformed into smooth ice crystals which bind together into hard pack. The volume of the snow shrinks, and over time the old snow becomes glaciated. Austria’s largest glacier is 'Pasterze' at the foot of mount Grossglockner, with a surface area of 17.3km².