Articles | Volume 10, issue 9
Research article
27 Sep 2010
Research article |  | 27 Sep 2010

Rockfall-induced impact force causing a debris flow on a volcanoclastic soil slope: a case study in southern Italy

P. Budetta

Abstract. On 10 January 2003, a rockfall of approximately 10 m3 affected a cliff some 25 m high located along the northern slopes of Mt. St. Angelo (Nocera Inferiore, province of Salerno) in the southern Italian region of Campania. The impact of boulders on the lower sector of the slope, along which detrital-pyroclastic soils outcrop, triggered a small channelled debris flow of about 500 m3. Fortunately, no damage nor victims resulted from the landslide. Several marks of the impacts were observed at the cliff toe and outside the collapsed area, and the volumes of some fallen boulders were subsequently measured. By means of in-situ surveys, it was possible to reconstruct the cliff's geo-structural layout in detail. A rockfall back-analysis was subsequently performed along seven critical profiles of the entire slope (surface area of about 4000 m2). The results of this numerical modelling using the lumped-mass method were then used to map the kinetic iso-energy curves. In the triggering area of the debris flow, for a falling boulder of 1 m3, the mean kinetic energy was estimated at 120 kJ, this value being equivalent to an impact force, on an inclined surface, of some 800 kN. After landing, due to the locally high slope gradient (about 45°), and low angle of trajectory at impact (about 23°), some boulders slid down the slope as far as the endpoints. The maximum depth of penetration into the ground by a sliding block was estimated at about 16 cm. Very likely, owing to the high impact force of boulders on the saturated soil slope outcropping at the cliff base, the debris flow was triggered under undrained loading conditions. Initial failure was characterized by a translational slide involving a limited, almost elliptical area where the pyroclastic cover shows greater thickness in comparison with the surrounding areas.