Articles | Volume 9, issue 5
08 Oct 2009
 | 08 Oct 2009

Identification of potential rockfall source areas at a regional scale using a DEM-based geomorphometric analysis

A. Loye, M. Jaboyedoff, and A. Pedrazzini

Abstract. The availability of high resolution Digital Elevation Models (DEM) at a regional scale enables the analysis of topography with high levels of detail. Hence, a DEM-based geomorphometric approach becomes more accurate for detecting potential rockfall sources. Potential rockfall source areas are identified according to the slope angle distribution deduced from high resolution DEM crossed with other information extracted from geological and topographic maps in GIS format. The slope angle distribution can be decomposed in several Gaussian distributions that can be considered as characteristic of morphological units: rock cliffs, steep slopes, footslopes and plains. A terrain is considered as potential rockfall sources when their slope angles lie over an angle threshold, which is defined where the Gaussian distribution of the morphological unit "Rock cliffs" become dominant over the one of "Steep slopes". In addition to this analysis, the cliff outcrops indicated by the topographic maps were added. They contain however "flat areas", so that only the slope angles values above the mode of the Gaussian distribution of the morphological unit "Steep slopes" were considered. An application of this method is presented over the entire Canton of Vaud (3200 km2), Switzerland. The results were compared with rockfall sources observed on the field and orthophotos analysis in order to validate the method. Finally, the influence of the cell size of the DEM is inspected by applying the methodology over six different DEM resolutions.