New Perspectives on Long Run-out Rock Avalanches: A Dynamic Analysis of 20 Events in the Vaigat Strait, West Greenland

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 1:55 PM
Jessica Benjamin1, Nick J Rosser1, Stuart Dunning2, Richard J Hardy1, Karim Kelfoun3, Witold Szczucinski4, Emma C Norman1, Mateusz Strzelecki5 and Maria Drewniak4, (1)University of Durham, Durham, United Kingdom, (2)Northumbria University, Geography, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, United Kingdom, (3)University Blaise Pascal Clermont-Ferrand II, Laboratoire Magmas et Volcans, Clermont-Ferrand, France, (4)Adam Mickiewicz University, Institute of Geology, Poznań, Poland, (5)Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences, Wroclaw, Poland
Risk assessments of the threat posed by rock avalanches rely upon numerical modelling of potential run-out and spreading, and are contingent upon a thorough understanding of the flow dynamics inferred from deposits left by previous events. Few records exist of multiple rock avalanches with boundary conditions sufficiently consistent to develop a set of more generalised rules for behaviour across events. A unique cluster of 20 large (3 x 106 – 94 x 106 m3) rock avalanche deposits along the Vaigat Strait, West Greenland, offers a unique opportunity to model a large sample of adjacent events sourced from a stretch of coastal mountains of relatively uniform geology and structure.

Our simulations of these events were performed using VolcFlow, a geophysical mass flow code developed to simulate volcanic debris avalanches. Rheological calibration of the model was performed using a well-constrained event at Paatuut (AD 2000). The best-fit simulation assumes a constant retarding stress with a collisional stress coefficient (T0 = 250 kPa, ξ = 0.01), and simulates run-out to within ±0.3% of that observed. Despite being widely used to simulate rock avalanche propagation, other models, that assume either a Coulomb frictional or a Voellmy rheology, failed to reproduce the observed event characteristics and deposit distribution at Paatuut. We applied this calibration to 19 other events, simulating rock avalanche motion across 3D terrain of varying levels of complexity.

Our findings illustrate the utility and sensitivity of modelling a single rock avalanche satisfactorily as a function of rheology, alongside the validity of applying the same parameters elsewhere, even within similar boundary conditions. VolcFlow can plausibly account for the observed morphology of a series of deposits emplaced by events of different types, although its performance is sensitive to a range of topographic and geometric factors. These exercises show encouraging results in the model’s ability to simulate a series of events using a single set of parameters obtained by back-analysis of the Paatuut event alone. The results also hold important implications for our process understanding of rock avalanches in confined fjord settings, where correctly modelling material flux at the point of entry into the water is critical in tsunami generation.