Rockfall at Proglacial Rockwalls—A Case Study from the Kaunertal, Austria

  • Lucas VehlingEmail author
  • Joachim Rohn
  • Michael Moser
Part of the Geography of the Physical Environment book series (GEOPHY)


Since the Little Ice Age, high alpine regions have faced rapid glacier melting that has contributed to enhanced rockfall activity at recently deglaciated rockwalls. At the Gepatschferner, Kaunertal (Austria), rockfall activity has been quantified for the past several years using rockfall collector nets, ‘natural’ rockfall traps and multi-temporal LiDAR. Toppling and sliding activity of large unstable rock blocks, considered as precursors of rockfalls, were monitored by steel tape measurements and electrical crackmeters. The highest rockfall activity was measured at recently deglaciated rockwalls with low rock mass quality, where rockwall back-weathering rates locally exceeded 10 mm/a. Those rates are among the highest ever published. 108 mid- and high-magnitude rockfalls with volumes between 100 and 30,000 m3 were released between 2006 and 2012. Their scars are clustered in the proglacial high-altitude parts of the Kaunertal. As well, rockwall activity was concentrated in the autumn and winter months.


PROSA project Rockfall rates Displacement rates Crackmeter Rock mass strength 



The research work was carried out in the PROSA-joint (High-resolution measurements of morphodynamics in rapidly changing PROglacial Systems of the Alps) project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; grant numbers RO 2211/5-1, RO 2211/5-2, RO 2211/5-3).

We thank Philipp Glira (TU Vienna) and Ludwig Hilger (University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) for the excellent preparation of the airborne LiDAR data and Harald Meier, Markus Schleier, Renneng Bi, Johannes Wiedenmann and Ingvar Krieger for their help during the construction of the rockfall collector nets. Further, we acknowledge Tobias Heckmann and Samuel McColl for the suggestions to revise the manuscript and the good ideas to improve it. Finally, we acknowledge the TiWAG hydropower company for granting free access to the mountain road and the Tyrolean government for generously providing airborne LiDAR data of the year 2006.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-NürnbergErlangenGermany

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