Counting scars on tree stems to assess rockfall hazards: A low effort approach, but how reliable?

Trappmann, Daniel; Stoffel, Markus (2013). Counting scars on tree stems to assess rockfall hazards: A low effort approach, but how reliable? Geomorphology, 180-181, pp. 180-186. Elsevier Science 10.1016/j.geomorph.2012.10.009

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Rockfall is a widespread and hazardous process in mountain environments, but data on past events are only rarely available. Growth-ring series from trees impacted by rockfall were successfully used in the past to overcome the lack of archival records. Dendrogeomorphic techniques have been demonstrated to allow very accurate dating and reconstruction of spatial and temporal rockfall activity, but the approach has been cited to be labor intensive and time consuming. In this study, we present a simplified method to quantify rockfall processes on forested slopes requiring less time and efforts. The approach is based on a counting of visible scars on the stem surface of Common beech (Fagus sylvatica L.). Data are presented from a site in the Inn valley (Austria), where rocks are frequently detached from an ~ 200-m-high, south-facing limestone cliff. We compare results obtained from (i) the “classical” analysis of growth disturbances in the tree-ring series of 33 Norway spruces (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) and (ii) data obtained with a scar count on the stem surface of 50 F. sylvatica trees.

A total of 277 rockfall events since A.D. 1819 could be reconstructed from tree-ring records of P. abies, whereas 1140 scars were observed on the stem surface of F. sylvatica. Absolute numbers of rockfalls (and hence return intervals) vary significantly between the approaches, and the mean number of rockfalls observed on the stem surface of F. sylvatica exceeds that of P. abies by a factor of 2.7. On the other hand, both methods yield comparable data on the spatial distribution of relative rockfall activity. Differences may be explained by a great portion of masked scars in P. abies and the conservation of signs of impacts on the stem of F. sylvatica. Besides, data indicate that several scars on the bark of F. sylvatica may stem from the same impact and thus lead to an overestimation of rockfall activity.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Trappmann, Daniel Gordian and Stoffel, Markus


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




Elsevier Science




Daniel Gordian Trappmann

Date Deposited:

18 Aug 2014 11:03

Last Modified:

08 Oct 2015 09:07

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Rockfall, Dendrogeomorphology, Tree ring, Frequency, Scar count




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