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A method to reveal climatic variables triggering slope failures at high elevation

Abstract

The air temperature in the Alps has increased at a rate more than twice the global average in the last century, and a significant increase in the number of slope failures has also been documented, in particular in glacial and periglacial areas. Thus, the relationship between climatological forcing and processes of instability at high elevation is worth analyzing. We provide a simple, statistically based method aimed at identifying a relationship between climate factors and the triggering of geohazards. Our main idea is to compare the meteorological conditions at the time when the instability occurred with the typical conditions in the same place. Carrying out a straightforward analysis based on the use of the empirical distribution function, we are able to determine whether any of the meteorological variables had nonstandard values in the lead-up to the slope failure event, and thus to identify the variables that are likely to have acted as triggering factors for the slope failure. The method has been tested on five events in the glacial and periglacial areas of the Piedmont Alps (Northwestern Italy) occurring between 1989 and 2008. Out of these five case studies, our research shows that four can be attributed to climatic anomalies (rise of temperature and/or heavy precipitation). The results of this study may contribute to developing knowledge about the relationships between climatic variables and slope failures at high elevations, providing interesting insights into the expected impact of ongoing global warming on geohazards.

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Correspondence to Roberta Paranunzio.

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Paranunzio, R., Laio, F., Nigrelli, G. et al. A method to reveal climatic variables triggering slope failures at high elevation. Nat Hazards 76, 1039–1061 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-014-1532-6

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Keywords

  • Alps
  • Precipitation
  • Triggering
  • High elevation
  • Geohazards
  • Climate change
  • Temperature