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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 9, issue 2 | Copyright
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 481-499, 2009
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-9-481-2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  31 Mar 2009

31 Mar 2009

First approaches towards modelling glacial hazards in the Mount Cook region of New Zealand's Southern Alps

S. K. Allen1, D. Schneider3,2, and I. F. Owens1 S. K. Allen et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand
  • 2Glaciology, Geomorphodynamics and Geochronology, Dept. of Geography, University of Zurich-Irchel, 8057, Switzerland
  • 3WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, SLF, Davos Dorf, 7250, Switzerland

Abstract. Flood and mass movements originating from glacial environments are particularly devastating in populated mountain regions of the world, but in the remote Mount Cook region of New Zealand's Southern Alps minimal attention has been given to these processes. Glacial environments are characterized by high mass turnover and combined with changing climatic conditions, potential problems and process interactions can evolve rapidly. Remote sensing based terrain mapping, geographic information systems and flow path modelling are integrated here to explore the extent of ice avalanche, debris flow and lake flood hazard potential in the Mount Cook region. Numerous proglacial lakes have formed during recent decades, but well vegetated, low gradient outlet areas suggest catastrophic dam failure and flooding is unlikely. However, potential impacts from incoming mass movements of ice, debris or rock could lead to dam overtopping, particularly where lakes are forming directly beneath steep slopes. Physically based numerical modeling with RAMMS was introduced for local scale analyses of rock avalanche events, and was shown to be a useful tool for establishing accurate flow path dynamics and estimating potential event magnitudes. Potential debris flows originating from steep moraine and talus slopes can reach road and built infrastructure when worst-case runout distances are considered, while potential effects from ice avalanches are limited to walking tracks and alpine huts located in close proximity to initiation zones of steep ice. Further local scale studies of these processes are required, leading towards a full hazard assessment, and changing glacial conditions over coming decades will necessitate ongoing monitoring and reassessment of initiation zones and potential impacts.

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