A GRASS GIS Implementation of the Savage-Hutter Avalanche Model and Its Application to the 1987 Val Pola Event

  • Martin MergiliEmail author
  • Katharina Schratz
  • Alexander Ostermann
  • Wolfgang Fellin


Computer models play an increasing role for the understanding of the dynamics of granular flows (rock avalanches, debris flows, snow avalanches etc.). Simple empirical relationships or semi-deterministic models are often applied in GIS-based modelling environments. However, they are only appropriate for rough overviews at the regional scale. In detail, granular flows are highly complex processes and deterministic models are required for a detailed understanding of such phenomena. One of the most advanced theories for understanding and modelling granular flows is the Savage-Hutter model, a system of differential equations based on the conservation of mass and momentum. The equations have been solved for a number of idealized topographies, but not yet satisfactorily for arbitrary terrain. Not many attempts to integrate the model with GIS were known up to now. The work presented is seen as an initiative to integrate a fully deterministic model for the motion of granular flows, based on the Savage-Hutter theory, with GRASS, an Open Source GIS software package. The potentials of the model are highlighted with the Val Pola rock avalanche as test event. The limitations and the most urging needs for further research are discussed.


Granular flows Physically-based modelling GRASS GIS Val Pola rock avalanche 



The work was supported by the Tyrolean Science Funds. Special thanks for fruitful discussions go to Kolumban Hutter, Jean F. Schneider and Mechthild Thalhammer.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Mergili
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katharina Schratz
    • 2
  • Alexander Ostermann
    • 2
  • Wolfgang Fellin
    • 3
  1. 1.BOKU University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of MathematicsUniversity of InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria
  3. 3.Division of Geotechnical and Tunnel EngineeringUniversity of InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria

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