Climatic Change

, Volume 122, Issue 1–2, pp 141–155 | Cite as

Possible impacts of climate change on debris-flow activity in the Swiss Alps

  • Markus StoffelEmail author
  • Thomas Mendlik
  • Michelle Schneuwly-Bollschweiler
  • Andreas Gobiet


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.


Debris Flow Regional Climate Model Extreme Precipitation Event Rock Glacier Trigger Debris Flow 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



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).

Supplementary material

10584_2013_993_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (373 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 373 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Markus Stoffel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Thomas Mendlik
    • 3
  • Michelle Schneuwly-Bollschweiler
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andreas Gobiet
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Geneva, Institute for Environmental Sciences, Climatic Change and Climate ImpactsCarougeSwitzerland
  2. 2.University of Bern, Institute of Geological Sciences, dendrolab.chBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.University of Graz, Wegener Center for Climate and Global ChangeGrazAustria

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