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The altitudinal temperature lapse rates applied to high elevation rockfalls studies in the Western European Alps

Abstract

Temperature is one of the most important aspects of mountain climates. The relationships between air temperature and rockfalls at high-elevation sites are very important to know, but are also very difficult to study. In relation to this, a reliable method to estimate air temperatures at high-elevation sites is to apply the altitudinal temperature lapse rates (ATLR). The aims of this work are to quantify the values and the variability of the hourly ATLR and to apply this to estimated temperatures at high-elevation sites for rockfalls studies. To calculate ATLR prior the rockfalls, we used data acquired from two automatic weather stations that are located at an elevation above 2500 m. The sensors/instruments of these two stations are reliable because subjected to an accurate control and calibration once for year and the raw data have passed two automatic quality controls. Our study has yielded the following main results: (i) hourly ATLR increases slightly with increasing altitude, (ii) it is possible to estimate temperature at high-elevation sites with a good level of accuracy using ATLR, and (iii) temperature plays an important role on slope failures that occur at high-elevation sites and its importance is much more evident if the values oscillate around 0 °C with an amplitude of ±5 °C during the previous time-period. For these studies, it is not enough to improve the knowledge on air temperature, but it is necessary to develop an integrated knowledge of the thermal conditions of different materials involved in these processes (rock, debris, ice, water). Moreover, this integrated knowledge must be acquired by means of sensors and acquisition chains with known metrological traceability and uncertainty of measurements.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the Centro Funzionale della Regione Autonoma Valle d’Aosta, the ARPA Valle d’Aosta, and the Aeronautica Militare Italiana for temperature data. A special thanks to Dr. Veronica Davico for her contribution to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Guido Nigrelli.

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Nigrelli, G., Fratianni, S., Zampollo, A. et al. The altitudinal temperature lapse rates applied to high elevation rockfalls studies in the Western European Alps. Theor Appl Climatol 131, 1479–1491 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-017-2066-0

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