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Debrisavalanche SuedTirol2018

A debris flow originated from a wet avalanche in South Tyrol (Italian Alps) on January the 9th, 2018, early in the morning, on a North facing slope. The mass movement was triggered by a large front of wet snow which started sliding on a frozen soil (meadow), where a layer of melting water acted as lubricant. The frozen soil has a low hydraulic conductivity that did not allow the water from snowmelt to infiltrate, therefore the snowmelt flowed as surface runoff between the base of the snow layer and the meadow covered slope surface. The surface runoff had also been fed by intense rainfall the night before. Due to abormal high temperatures (far above the average), the snowpack was extremely wet.

An abrupt change in slope and the availability of lose material turned the process into a debris flow, which entrained trees and boulders along the way, increasing its size. In certain sections the sliding mass eroded the soil layer up to the bedrock. The moving mass went all the way down to the valley floor. Clear signs of high force impacts were observed (deep tree scars). The deposition area was mainly concentrated at the toe of the slope. This required urgent mitigation measures to mitigate the risk for the infrastructures running through the valley.

Extending over more than 113,000 hectares, the Thomas fire, burning in December 2017, stripped away vegetation and altered the condition of the soil.  By removing the above-ground canopy of plants and decreasing water infiltration rates, the fire decreased rainfall thresholds necessary to mobilize large volumes of sediment. Even though the fire was not completely extinguished before the onset of winter rains on 8-9 January, 2018, thousands of people were under evacuation orders as the rainfall fell on vulnerable watersheds.  Measured rain intensities were as high as 144 mm/hr. The resulting debris flows and floods (see illustrative videos here) transported ash, mud, boulders, and trees, over 5 m deep at speeds of 20 km/hr through alluvial fans at the base of the mountains, killing at least 20 people and damaging hundreds of homes, vehicles, and infrastructureThe U.S. Geological Survey assessed the burned areas to determine flash flood, mudslide and debris flow hazards. The comparison of images before and after the events published by the BBC are impressive

 

A few weeks after cyclone Fehi, another ex-tropical cyclone (Gita) has battered many of the same
parts of New Zealand causing flooding, landslides, damage to roads and stranding tourists in many
popular holiday spots.

 

Due to the combination of excessive snowfall, subsequent snowmelt and intense, continuous rainfall (> 160 mm in 48 hrs), many regions in the French and Swiss Alps were affected by shallow landslides, debris flows and flooding between the 30th of December 2017 and the 5th of January 2018. In France, 2 persons were killed in their homes due to the natural hazards and multiple roads were closed (see examples from Switzerland here).

The 15th of February 2018, the University of Lausanne organises the third "Journée de Rencontre sur les Dangers Naturels". Here, practitioners and scientists will meet to discuss the question how to make the move from hazard management towards integrated risk management. The meeting takes place in Lausanne (Switzerland) and will mainly be held in French.