A 6-year lidar survey reveals enhanced rockwall retreat and modified rockfall magnitudes/frequencies in deglaciating cirques

Ingo Hartmeyer, Markus Keuschnig, Robert Delleske, Michael Krautblatter, Andreas Lang, Lothar Schrott, Günther Prasicek, Jan-Christoph Otto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Cirque erosion contributes significantly to mountain denudation and is a key element of glaciated mountain topography. Despite long-standing efforts, rates of rockwall retreat and the proportional contributions of low-, mid- and high-magnitude rockfalls have remained poorly constrained. Here, a unique, terrestrial-lidar-derived rockfall inventory (2011–2017) of two glaciated cirques in the Hohe Tauern range, Central Alps, Austria, is analysed. The mean cirque wall retreat rate of 1.9 mm a−1 ranks in the top range of reported values and is mainly driven by enhanced rockfall from the lowermost, freshly deglaciated rockwall sections. Retreat rates are significantly elevated over decades subsequent to glacier downwasting. Elongated cirque morphology and recorded cirque wall retreat rates indicate headward erosion is clearly outpacing lateral erosion, most likely due to the cataclinal backwalls, which are prone to large dip-slope failures. The rockfall magnitude–frequency distribution – the first such distribution derived for deglaciating cirques – follows a distinct negative power law over 4 orders of magnitude. Magnitude–frequency distributions in glacier-proximal and glacier-distal rockwall sections differ significantly due to an increased occurrence of large rockfalls in recently deglaciated areas. In this paper, the second of two companion pieces, we show how recent climate warming shapes glacial landforms, controls spatiotemporal rockfall variation in glacial environments and indicates a transient signal with decadal-scale exhaustion of rockfall activity immediately following deglaciation crucial for future hazard assessments.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberesurf-8-753-2020
Pages (from-to)753–768
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sep 2020

Fields of Science and Technology Classification 2012

  • 105 Geosciences

Cite this