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., 2, 15-26, 2002
© Author(s) 2002. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
30 Jun 2002
Probabilistic approach to rock fall hazard assessment: potential of historical data analysis
C. Dussauge-Peisser1, A. Helmstetter2, J.-R. Grasso2, D. Hantz1, P. Desvarreux1, M. Jeannin1, and A. Giraud1 1Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire de Recherche Impliquant la Géologie et la Mécanique, Université Joseph Fourier, BP53, 38041 Grenoble cedex 9, France
2Laboratoire de Géophysique Interne et Tectonophysique, BP53, 38041 Grenoble cedex 9, France
Abstract. We study the rock fall volume distribution for three rock fall inventories and we fit the observed data by a power-law distribution, which has recently been proposed to describe landslide and rock fall volume distributions, and is also observed for many other natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. We use these statistical distributions of past events to estimate rock fall occurrence rates on the studied areas. It is an alternative to deterministic approaches, which have not proved successful in predicting individual rock falls. The first one concerns calcareous cliffs around Grenoble, French Alps, from 1935 to 1995. The second data set is gathered during the 1912–1992 time window in Yosemite Valley, USA, in granite cliffs. The third one covers the 1954–1976 period in the Arly gorges, French Alps, with metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. For the three data sets, we find a good agreement between the observed volume distributions and a fit by a power-law distribution for volumes larger than 50 m3 , or 20 m3 for the Arly gorges. We obtain similar values of the b exponent close to 0.45 for the 3 data sets. In agreement with previous studies, this suggests, that the b value is not dependant on the geological settings. Regarding the rate of rock fall activity, determined as the number of rock fall events with volume larger than 1 m3 per year, we find a large variability from one site to the other. The rock fall activity, as part of a local erosion rate, is thus spatially dependent. We discuss the implications of these observations for the rock fall hazard evaluation. First, assuming that the volume distributions are temporally stable, a complete rock fall inventory allows for the prediction of recurrence rates for future events of a given volume in the range of the observed historical data. Second, assuming that the observed volume distribution follows a power-law distribution without cutoff at small or large scales, we can extrapolate these predictions to events smaller or larger than those reported in the data sets. Finally, we discuss the possible biases induced by the poor quality of the rock fall inventories, and the sensibility of the extrapolated predictions to variations in the parameters of the power law.

Citation: Dussauge-Peisser, C., Helmstetter, A., Grasso, J.-R., Hantz, D., Desvarreux, P., Jeannin, M., and Giraud, A.: Probabilistic approach to rock fall hazard assessment: potential of historical data analysis, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 2, 15-26,, 2002.
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