Influence of runout path material on rock and debris avalanche mobility: field evidence and analogue modelling
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Rock and debris avalanches result from sudden rock slope failure; they occur in a variety of materials and landscapes, and often have a catastrophic and lasting impact on the society, infrastructure, and landscape of the area. In order to fully understand these events, the factors leading to failure and those influencing the course of the event must be investigated. In recent years, increased attention has been given to numerous aspects of rock/debris avalanche emplacement: among these is the influence of runout path material on the behaviour of snow and ice avalanches, pyroclastic currents, debris flows, volcanic debris avalanches and non-volcanic rock avalanches. The fact that substrates are involved in rock avalanche emplacement has been known since Buss and Heim remarked on it in 1881, but few detailed studies on the effects of this involvement on avalanche emplacement exist. One popular hypothesis which has emerged is that the long runout of large rock avalanches can be explained by the basal friction reduction due to overrunning or failure of saturated substrate material. However, the present study shows that this is not the case. From analysis of nearly 400 rock and debris avalanche deposit descriptions it is evident that: (1) avalanches inevitably interact with their runout path material; (2) all large (> 10⁶ m³) rock and debris avalanche events have runout distances that exceed simple frictional model predictions regardless of type or degree of substrate interaction; (3) substrates only add complexities to the ‘long-runout’ avalanche events similar to topographic interference. The complexities resulting from substrate interaction include, for example, characteristic deposit surface features such as longitudinal ridges and flowbands, compressional faults and raised margins from rapid deceleration behind e.g. bulldozed substrates; shearing in a basal mixed zone and consequent changes in basal avalanche mechanical properties; volcanic edifice failure on weak underlying sediments with a change in volcano shape; transformation into more mobile debris flows through the entrainment of large quantities of water or water-bearing materials; and many others.