Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
09 Apr 2013
Research article |  | 09 Apr 2013

Flow-R, a model for susceptibility mapping of debris flows and other gravitational hazards at a regional scale

P. Horton, M. Jaboyedoff, B. Rudaz, and M. Zimmermann

Abstract. The development of susceptibility maps for debris flows is of primary importance due to population pressure in hazardous zones. However, hazard assessment by process-based modelling at a regional scale is difficult due to the complex nature of the phenomenon, the variability of local controlling factors, and the uncertainty in modelling parameters. A regional assessment must consider a simplified approach that is not highly parameter dependant and that can provide zonation with minimum data requirements. A distributed empirical model has thus been developed for regional susceptibility assessments using essentially a digital elevation model (DEM). The model is called Flow-R for Flow path assessment of gravitational hazards at a Regional scale (available free of charge under and has been successfully applied to different case studies in various countries with variable data quality. It provides a substantial basis for a preliminary susceptibility assessment at a regional scale. The model was also found relevant to assess other natural hazards such as rockfall, snow avalanches and floods.

The model allows for automatic source area delineation, given user criteria, and for the assessment of the propagation extent based on various spreading algorithms and simple frictional laws. We developed a new spreading algorithm, an improved version of Holmgren's direction algorithm, that is less sensitive to small variations of the DEM and that is avoiding over-channelization, and so produces more realistic extents.

The choices of the datasets and the algorithms are open to the user, which makes it compliant for various applications and dataset availability. Amongst the possible datasets, the DEM is the only one that is really needed for both the source area delineation and the propagation assessment; its quality is of major importance for the results accuracy. We consider a 10 m DEM resolution as a good compromise between processing time and quality of results. However, valuable results have still been obtained on the basis of lower quality DEMs with 25 m resolution.