Geomorphic coupling between hillslopes and channels in the Swiss Alps

Savi, Sara; Schneuwly, Michelle; Bommer, Bastian; Stoffel, Markus; Schlunegger, Fritz (2013). Geomorphic coupling between hillslopes and channels in the Swiss Alps. Earth surface processes and landforms, 38(9), pp. 959-969. Wiley 10.1002/esp.3342

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The coupling relationships between hillslope and channel network are fundamental for the understanding of mountainous landscapes' evolution. Here, we applied dendrogeomorphic methods to identify the hillslope–channel relationship and the sediment transfer dynamics within an alpine catchment, at the highest possible resolution. The Schimbrig catchment is located in the central Swiss Alps and can be divided into two distinct geomorphic sectors. To the east, the Schimbrig earth flow is the largest sediment source of the basin, while to the west, the Rossloch channel network is affected by numerous shallow landslides responsible for the supply of sediment from hillslopes to channels. To understand the connectivity between hillslopes and channels and between sources and sink, trees were sampled along the main Rossloch stream, on the Schimbrig earth flow and on the Rossloch depositional area. Geomorphic observations and dendrogeomophic results indicate different mechanisms of sediment production, transfer and deposition between upper and lower segments of the channel network. In the source areas (upper part of the Rossloch channel system), sediment is delivered to the channel network through slow movements of the ground, typical of earth flow, shallow landslides and soil creep. Contrariwise, in the depositional area (lower part of the channel network), the mechanisms of sediment transfer are mainly due to torrential activity, floods and debris flows. Tree analysis allowed the reconstruction of periods of high activity during the last century for the entire catchment. The collected dataset presents a very high temporal resolution but we encountered some limitations in establishing the source-to-sink connectivity at the catchment-wide scale. Despite these uncertainties, for decennial timescales the results suggest a direct coupling between hillslopes and neighbouring channels in the Rossloch channel network, and a de-coupling between sediment sources and sink farther downstream, with connections possible only during extraordinary events.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Savi, Sara, Schneuwly, Michelle, Stoffel, Markus, Schlunegger, Fritz


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
500 Science








Fritz Schlunegger

Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2014 10:43

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:31

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

source to sink, tree rings, connectivity, coupling–decoupling mechanisms, hillslope–channel processes




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