Debris flows on forested cones – reconstruction and comparison of frequencies in two catchments in Val Ferret, Switzerland
Abstract. Debris flows represent a major threat to infrastructure in many regions of the Alps. Since systematic acquisition of data on debris-flow events in Switzerland only started after the events of 1987, there is a lack of historical knowledge on earlier debris-flow events for most torrents. It is therefore the aim of this study to reconstruct the debris-flow activity for the Reuse de Saleinaz and the La Fouly torrents in Val Ferret (Valais, Switzerland). In total, 556 increment cores from 278 heavily affected Larix decidua Mill., Picea abies (L.) Karst. and Pinus sylvestris L. trees were sampled. Trees on the cone of Reuse de Saleinaz show an average age of 123 years at sampling height, with the oldest tree aged 325 years. Two periods of intense colonization (the 1850s–1880s and the 1930s–1950s) are observed, probably following high-magnitude events that would have eliminated the former forest stand. Trees on the cone of Torrent de la Fouly indicate an average age of 119 years.
As a whole, tree-ring analyses allowed assessment of 333 growth disturbances belonging to 69 debris-flow events. While the frequency for the Reuse de Saleinaz study site comprises 39 events between AD 1743 and 2003, 30 events could be reconstructed at the Torrent de la Fouly for the period 1862–2003. Even though the two study sites evince considerably different characteristics in geology, debris-flow material and catchment morphology, they apparently produce debris flows at similar recurrence intervals. We suppose that, in the study region, the triggering and occurrence of events is transport-limited rather than weathering-limited.