Comparison of debris flow observations, including fine-sediment grain size and composition and runout model results, at Illgraben, Swiss Alps

Bolliger, Daniel; Schlunegger, Fritz; McArdell, Brian W. (2024). Comparison of debris flow observations, including fine-sediment grain size and composition and runout model results, at Illgraben, Swiss Alps. Natural hazard and earth system sciences, 24(3), pp. 1035-1049. Copernicus Publications 10.5194/nhess-24-1035-2024

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Debris flows are important processes for the assessment of natural hazards due to their damage potential. To assess the impact of a potential debris flow, parameters such as the flow velocity, flow depth, maximum discharge, and volume are of great importance. This study uses data from the Illgraben observation station in the central Alps of Switzerland to explore the relationships between these flow parameters and the debris flow dynamics. To this end, we simulated previous debris flow events with the RAMMS::Debrisflow (Rapid Mass Movement Simulation:: Debrisflow) runout model, which is based on a numerical solution of the shallow water equations for granular flows using the Voellmy friction relation. Here, the events were modelled in an effort to explore possible controls on the friction parameters   and   , which describe the Coulomb friction and the turbulent friction, respectively, in the model. Additionally, sediment samples from levee deposits were analysed for their grain size distributions (14 events) and their mineralogical properties (4 events) to explore if the properties of the fine-grained matrix have an influence on the debris flow dynamics. Finally, field data from various debris flows such as the flow velocities and depths were statistically compared with the grain size distributions, the mineralogical properties, and the simulation results to identify the key variables controlling the kinematics of these flows. The simulation results point to several ideal solutions, which depend on the Coulomb and turbulent friction parameters (μ and ξ, respectively). In addition, the modelling results show that the Coulomb and turbulent frictions of a flow are related to the Froude number if the flow velocity is < 6–7 m s−1. It is also shown that the fine-sediment grain size or clay-particle mineralogy of a flow neither correlates with the flow's velocity and depth, nor can it be used to quantify the friction in the Voellmy friction relation. This suggests that the frictional behaviour of a flow may be controlled by other properties such as the friction generated by the partially fluidised coarse granular sediment. Yet, the flow properties are well-correlated with the flow volume, from which most other parameters can be derived, which is consistent with common engineering practice.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Bolliger, Daniel, Schlunegger, Fritz


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




Copernicus Publications




Fritz Schlunegger

Date Deposited:

02 Apr 2024 16:24

Last Modified:

02 Apr 2024 16:24

Publisher DOI:





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