Articles | Volume 15, issue 3
Research article
27 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 27 Mar 2015

Debris flows in the eastern Italian Alps: seasonality and atmospheric circulation patterns

E. I. Nikolopoulos, M. Borga, F. Marra, S. Crema, and L. Marchi

Abstract. The work examines the seasonality and large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns associated with debris-flow occurrence in the Trentino–Alto Adige region (eastern Italian Alps). Analysis is based on classification algorithms applied to a uniquely dense archive of debris flows and hourly rain gauge precipitation series covering the period 2000–2009. Results highlight the seasonal and synoptic forcing patterns linked to debris flows in the study area. Summer and fall season account for 92% of the debris flows in the record, while atmospheric circulation characterized by zonal west, mixed and meridional south and southeast (SE–S) patterns account for 80%. Both seasonal and circulation patterns exhibit geographical preference. In the case of seasonality, there is a strong north–south separation of summer–fall dominance, while spatial distribution of dominant circulation patterns exhibits clustering, with both zonal west and mixed patterns prevailing in the northwest and central east part of the region, while the southern part relates to meridional south and southeast pattern. Seasonal and synoptic pattern dependence is pronounced also on the debris-flow-triggering rainfall properties. Examination of rainfall intensity–duration thresholds derived for different data classes (according to season and synoptic pattern) revealed a distinct variability in estimated thresholds. These findings imply a certain control on debris-flow events and can therefore be used to improve existing alert systems.

Short summary
This study examines the seasonal and synoptic forcing patterns linked to debris flows occurring in the eastern Italian Alps. Results highlight that seasonal and synoptic pattern dependence is pronounced in both the debris-flow occurrence and the properties of triggering rainfall. Therefore, considering classification of debris flow events according to season and atmospheric circulation patterns can be used to improve existing warning systems that are operating on the basis of rainfall thresholds
Final-revised paper