EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Large slow rock-slope deformations affecting hydropower facilities

Margherita C. Spreafico, Federico Agliardi, Matteo Andreozzi, Alessandro Cossa, and Giovanni B. Crosta
Margherita C. Spreafico et al.
  • Università di Milano - Bicocca, DISAT_CSS1, Milano, Italy (

Large-scale creeping landslides are widespread in alpine areas. Associated long-term, slow deformations threaten urban settlement, railways, main roads and hydropower facilities, on which our society is strictly dependent. Over the next decades, the continuous growing of the global population, the resulting increase in the urbanization (also closer to hazard-prone areas), and the climate change (e.g. melting of alpine glaciers) will increase these interactions and the related risk. Nevertheless, assessing the vulnerability of different types of elements at risk to this kind of hazard is not obvious, especially when hydropower structures (including dams, tunnels, penstocks, etc.) are involved. Large rockslides complexity often results in a variety of different evolutionary trends, making their forecasting and risk reduction a challenge. While catastrophic collapse can cause huge instantaneous damages, slow movements along long periods may lead to progressive damage of structures and infrastructures.
In the alpine and pre-alpine areas of Lombardia (Central Italian Alps), slow rock-slope deformations affect an area of 750 km2, threatening more than 10 km2 of urban areas and about 100 km of penstocks or tunnels related to hydropower facilities. Here we focus on the Mt. Palino slope (Valmalenco, Italian Central Alps), that is affected by a complex, apparently long-lived DSGSD (Deep seated Gravitational Slope Deformation) with a relief exceeding 1000 m. The slope hosts hydropower facilities and a tourist resort. In order to recognize dominant processes and their possible evolution (internal deformation, low-rate steady activity, progressive behaviour, seasonal effects) for better risk assessment and mitigation, we investigated the volume and depth of displaced rock mass and the possible localization of deformations along a basal shear zone. 
Geomechanical and geomorphological surveys, seismic tomography, deep borehole logs and monitoring data (borehole instrumentation, precise levelling, topographic and GB-InSAR) allowed recognizing different sectors with different evolutionary stage and activity degree. The DSGSD which affect the entire Mt. Palino was probably active before the last LGM (Last Glacial Maximum), while only the northern slope sector is now considered as active. We recognized multiple nested phenomena faster than the main mass, identified as large rockslides. They are suspended over the valley floor and may evolve into fast rock avalanches. One of them is located in correspondence with the hydropower penstock, causing differential deformation to the structure. Borehole evidence of localization along cataclastic shear zones was found, motivating a petrographic geomechanical characterization of both rock masses and shear zone samples. Integrated 3D analysis of different information permitted to reconstruct displacement patterns, long-term mechanisms and the controlling factors of possible future evolution. 

How to cite: Spreafico, M. C., Agliardi, F., Andreozzi, M., Cossa, A., and Crosta, G. B.: Large slow rock-slope deformations affecting hydropower facilities, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-8288,, 2020