Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 1589–1604 | Cite as

Size Distribution for Potentially Unstable Rock Masses and In Situ Rock Blocks Using LIDAR-Generated Digital Elevation Models

  • O. MavrouliEmail author
  • J. Corominas
  • M. Jaboyedoff
Original Paper


In this paper, two analytical procedures which are independent from the existence of empirical data are presented for the calculation of (1) the size distribution of potentially unstable rock masses that expresses the potential rockfall size distribution, including big volumes corresponding to potential rare events with low susceptibility of failure and (2) the in situ block distribution on the slope face. Two approaches are, respectively, used. The first one involves the detection of kinematically unstable surfaces on a digital elevation model (DEM) and on orthophotos and the calculation of the volumes resting on them. For the second one the in situ block volumes formed by the intersection of the existing discontinuity sets are calculated using a high-resolution DEM. The procedures are presented through an application example at the country of Andorra and in particular at the chute of Forat Negre. The results from the first procedure indicate that it is kinematically possible to have mobilized volumes of some thousands of cubic meters; however, these are considered rare events with low susceptibility of failure. The size distribution of potentially unstable rock masses for big volume events was well fitted by a power law with an exponent of −0.5. The in situ block distribution on the slope face from the second procedure, assuming three types of intersection between the joints of the existing discontinuity sets and two extreme cases of discontinuity persistence, was also found to follow a power law, but with an exponent of −1.3. The comparison with the observed in the field block volume distribution on the slope face indicates that in reality discontinuities have a very high persistence and that considering only their visible trace length overestimates volumes, which is conservative.


Rockfalls Hazard Magnitude Frequency Lidar Terrestrial Laser Scanner 



This work has been supported by the Marie Curie Research and Training Network “Mountain Risks” funded by the European Commission (2007–2010, Contract MCRTN-35098) and by the Government of Andorra (Edicte de 10/04/2013, BOPA nº18 17/04/2014). The authors would like to thank A. Loye, A. Pedrazzini, and C. Longchamp for their support in the preparation of this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geotechnical Engineering and GeosciencesTechnical University of CataloniaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Centre de recherche sur l’environnement terrestre Faculté des géosciences et de l’environnementUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  3. 3.International Centre for Numerical Methods in Engineering, CIMNEBarcelonaSpain

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