Geomorphic Variations of Debris Flows and Recent Climatic Change in the French Alps

V. Jomelli; V. Pech; C. Chochillon; D. Brunstein
May 2004
Climatic Change;May2004, Vol. 64 Issue 1/2, p77
Academic Journal
Much work has been done to show that there is a relationship between the triggering of debris flows and the recorded increase in temperatures or in the number of intense rainy events over the last few decades. The question addressed in this paper is that of the impact of these climate changes on the dynamics of debris flows since the 1950s. 319 debris flows in the Dévoluy and Ecrins massifs located in the French Alps, the triggering of which is independent of the current glacial retreat, have been analysed. In the Dévoluy a reduction in the number of debris flows was observed in the periods 1950–1975 and 1975–2000. In the Massif des Ecrins, we have observed a shift of the triggering debris flow zone toward higher elevations and a lack of significant variation in the number of debris flows. But in the Massif des Ecrins this global result masks two different trends depending on elevation. At low altitude (<2200 m) the number of debris flows and the frequency of debris flows less than 400 m in length have decreased significantly since the 1980s whereas no significant variation was observed at high altitude (>2200 m). At the same time, we have observed a significant increase in the annual and seasonal temperatures for these 20 last years combined with a significant reduction in the number of freezing days. A significant increase in summer rains higher than 30 mm/d has also been observed. In Dévoluy and at low altitude in the Massif des Ecrins,these variations can be explained by the decrease in the number of freezing days related to the increase in the temperatures, which implies a slower reconstitution of the volume of debris stored between two events. But at high altitude it is currently difficult to establish the link between the climatic change and the dynamics of the debris flows because very little is known about the two variables controlling the triggering of the debris flows, i.e., on the one hand intense precipitations and on the other hand the volume of rock debris.


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