Debris-flow entrainment modelling under climate change: Considering antecedent moisture conditions along the flow path

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
By: , and 



Debris-flow volumes can increase along their flow path by entraining sediment stored in the channel bed and banks, thus also increasing hazard potential. Theoretical considerations, laboratory experiments and field investigations all indicate that the saturation conditions of the sediment along the flow path can greatly influence the amount of sediment entrained. However, this process is usually not considered for practical applications. This study aims to close this gap by combining runout and hydrological models into a predictive framework that is calibrated and tested using unique observations of sediment erosion and debris-flow properties available at a Swiss debris-flow observation station (Illgraben). To this end, hourly water input to the erodible channel is predicted using a simple, process-based hydrological model, and the resulting water saturation level in the upper sediment layer of the channel is modelled based on a Hortonian infiltration concept. Debris-flow entrainment is then predicted using the RAMMS debris-flow runout model. We find a strong correlation between the modelled saturation level of the sediment on the flow path and the channel-bed erodibility for single-surge debris-flow events with distinct fronts, indicating that the modelled water content is a good predictor for erosion simulated in RAMMS. Debris-flow properties with more complex flow behaviour (e.g., multiple surges or roll waves) are not as well predicted using this procedure, indicating that more physically complete models are necessary. Finally, we demonstrate how this modelling framework can be used for climate change impact assessment and show that earlier snowmelt may shift the peak of the debris-flow season to earlier in the year. Our novel modelling framework provides a plausible approach to reproduce saturation-dependent entrainment and thus better constrain event volumes for current and future hazard assessment.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Debris-flow entrainment modelling under climate change: Considering antecedent moisture conditions along the flow path
Series title Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
DOI 10.1002/esp.5868
Edition Online First
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center - Landslides / Earthquake Geology
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