EGU General Assembly 2022
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the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Movement of moisture during frost cracking cycles: First laboratory results from the CLIMROCK project.

Andrew Mitchell and Oliver Sass
Andrew Mitchell and Oliver Sass
  • Bayreuth, Geography, Geomorphology, Germany (

As a key part of landscape evolution and hazard to people in Alpine terrain, rock weathering leads to the breakdown and weakening of rock, causing rock fall and ultimately slope failure. Rock moisture availability is a major factor in these processes. It is understudied, partly due to a lack of reliable measurement techniques. Most frost weathering tests in the laboratory to date have been conducted with fully saturated specimens, which is often not the case under natural conditions.

As part of the DFG-funded CLIMROCK project, we performed laboratory based experiments in a climate cabinet looking at rock moisture movement during frost cracking cycles and its relation to rock weathering. A selection of Wettersteinkalk (limestone) blocks of 40 x 40 x 20 cm size were used, some of which were compact and some of which were highly fractured. The blocks saturated with water to different degrees (0%, 50%, 100%) and were insulated on the side faces. In different test runs, the base of the individual blocks were either left uncovered to allow water seeping through, also isolated at the base to create Different sensor types including Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR), Electrical Resistivity (ER) and Microwave sensor (MW) were used to quantify rock moisture levels and movement during freeze-thaw cycles of different duration. As a measure of relative rock weathering contact Acoustic Emissions (AE) loggers were used to detect subcritical cracking. Calibration of these instruments will be individual to each block.

Initial findings show marked movement of rock moisture at the beginning of the cycles with possible evidence of cryosuction down to 36cm depth from rock surface. Particularly strong moisture migration is seen in 50% and 100% samples at 25cm depth, though not when the sample is initially dry. There is also evidence of migrations to the freezing front and probable subsequent refreezing events.

Further test runs with different saturation levels (75%, 90%) are planned. Observations of moisture movements and weathering effects from the laboratory experiments will be applied to the interpretation of field rock moisture data from ongoing CLIMROCK studies in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps.

How to cite: Mitchell, A. and Sass, O.: Movement of moisture during frost cracking cycles: First laboratory results from the CLIMROCK project., EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-12182,, 2022.