Possible impacts of climate change on debris-flow activity in the Swiss Alps
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This study uses a long dataset of past debris flows from eight high-elevation catchments in the Swiss Alps for which triggering conditions since AD 1864 have been reconstructed. The torrents under investigation have unlimited sediment supply and the triggering of debris flows is thus mainly controlled by climatic factors. Based on point-based downscaled climate scenarios for meteorological stations located next to the catchments and for the periods 2001–2050 and 2051–2100, we study the evolution of temperature and rainfall above specific thresholds (10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 mm) and durations (1, 2 or 3 days). We conclude that the drier conditions in future summers and the wetting of springs, falls and early winters are likely to have significant impacts on the behavior of debris flows. Based on the current understanding of debris-flow systems and their reaction to rainfall inputs, one might expect only slight changes in the overall frequency of events by the mid-21st century, but possibly an increase in the overall magnitude of debris flows due to larger volumes of sediment delivered to the channels and an increase in extreme precipitation events. In the second half of the 21st century, the number of days with conditions favorable for the release of debris flows will likely decrease, especially in summer. The anticipated increase of rainfall during the shoulder seasons (March, April, November, December) is not expected to compensate for the decrease in future heavy summer rainfall over 2 or 3 days.
KeywordsDebris Flow Regional Climate Model Extreme Precipitation Event Rock Glacier Trigger Debris Flow
This work has been undertaken partly in the context of the EU-FP7 project ACQWA (project no. 212250) and Era.Net CICRLE Mountain project ARNICA (10-MCGOT-CIRCLE-2-CVS-116).
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