Articles | Volume 10, issue 7
30 Jul 2010
 | 30 Jul 2010

Description and analysis of the debris flows occurred during 2008 in the Eastern Pyrenees

M. Portilla, G. Chevalier, and M. Hürlimann

Abstract. Rainfall-triggered landslides taking place in the Spanish Eastern Pyrenees have usually been analysed on a regional scale. Most research focussed either on terrain susceptibility or on the characteristics of the critical rainfall, neglecting a detailed analysis of individual events. In contrast to other mountainous regions, research on debris flow has only been performed marginally and associated hazard has mostly been neglected.

In this study, five debris flows, which occurred in 2008, are selected; and site specific descriptions and analysis regarding geology, morphology, rainfall data and runout were performed. The results are compared with worldwide data and some conclusions on hazard assessment are presented.

The five events can be divided into two in-channel debris flows and three landslide-triggered debris flows. The in-channel generated debris flows exceeded 10 000 m3, which are unusually large mass movements compared to historic events which occurred in the Eastern Pyrenees. In contrast, the other events mobilised total volumes less than 2000 m3. The geomorphologic analysis showed that the studied events emphasize similar patterns when compared to published data focussing on slope angle in the initiation zone or catchment area.

Rainfall data revealed that all debris flows were triggered by high intensity-short duration rainstorms during the summer season. Unfortunately, existing rainfall thresholds in the Eastern Pyrenees consider long-lasting rainfall, usually occurring in autumn/winter. Therefore, new thresholds should be established taking into account the rainfall peak intensity in mm/h, which seems to be a much more relevant factor for summer than the event's total precipitation.

The runout analysis of the 2008 debris flows confirms the trend that larger volumes generally induce higher mobility. The numerical simulation of the Riu Runer event shows that its dynamic behaviour is well represented by Voellmy fluid rheology. A maximum front velocity of 7 m/s was back-analysed for the transit section and even on the fan velocities larger than 2 m/s were obtained.

This preliminary analysis of the major Eastern Pyrenean debris flows represents the first background for future studies. Additional research on other events is necessary to support the results presented herein, and to properly assess and reduce hazard related to debris flows.