Journal cover Journal topic
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 187-200, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
17 Jan 2012
Physically-based modelling of granular flows with Open Source GIS
M. Mergili1, K. Schratz2, A. Ostermann2, and W. Fellin3 1Institute of Applied Geology, BOKU University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Peter-Jordan-Straße 70, 1190 Vienna, Austria
2Department of Mathematics, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstraße 13, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
3Unit of Geotechnical and Tunnel Engineering, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstraße 13, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Abstract. Computer models, in combination with Geographic Information Sciences (GIS), play an important role in up-to-date studies of travel distance, impact area, velocity or energy of granular flows (e.g. snow or rock avalanches, flows of debris or mud). Simple empirical-statistical relationships or mass point models are frequently applied in GIS-based modelling environments. However, they are only appropriate for rough overviews at the regional scale. In detail, granular flows are highly complex processes and physically-based, distributed models are required for detailed studies of travel distance, velocity, and energy of such phenomena. One of the most advanced theories for understanding and modelling granular flows is the Savage-Hutter type model, a system of differential equations based on the conservation of mass and momentum. The equations have been solved for a number of idealized topographies, but only few attempts to find a solution for arbitrary topography or to integrate the model with GIS are known up to now. The work presented is understood as an initiative to integrate a fully physically-based model for the motion of granular flows, based on the extended Savage-Hutter theory, with GRASS, an Open Source GIS software package. The potentials of the model are highlighted, employing the Val Pola Rock Avalanche (Northern Italy, 1987) as the test event, and the limitations as well as the most urging needs for further research are discussed.

Citation: Mergili, M., Schratz, K., Ostermann, A., and Fellin, W.: Physically-based modelling of granular flows with Open Source GIS, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 187-200,, 2012.
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