EGU22-3207, updated on 27 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Rock slope dynamics in flysch formation under cold climate (part 2): rock deformations and rockfall triggering factors

Tom Birien and Francis Gauthier
Tom Birien and Francis Gauthier
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Since 1987, more than 17 500 rockfalls reaching a 70 km stretch of road have been reported by the Québec Ministry of Transport (MTQ) in northern Gaspésie. This natural hazard represents a nearly permanent danger for users. Earthquake, rainfall and freeze-thaw cycles are considered to be the main rockfall triggering factors. Although these events are well correlated with rockfall occurrences, it is not clear how they affect the failure mechanism. The first step in managing the risk rockfalls pose is to better understand the pre-failure processes that contribute to their development. The second step is to improve our ability to predict and anticipate rockfalls. This study aims to better understand the influence of climate-dependent variables on (1) the mechanical deformations of stratified sedimentary rock and (2) the climatic conditions conducive to rockfalls. Meteorological instruments including a 550 cm thermistor strings have been installed directly on a vertical rockwall located in northern Gaspésie. Mechanical deformations of the flysch sequence composed of sandstone, siltstone and shale was monitored using crack-meters. In addition, rockwalls were scanned with a terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) during specific pre-targeted meteorological conditions. Over a period of 18 months, 17 LiDAR surveys have allowed to identify 1287 rockfalls with a magnitude above 0.005 m³ on a scanned surface of 12 056 m². Irreversible deformations are mainly induced by rainfall and snowmelt (shrink-swell process in porous and clayey rock and/or hydrostatic pressure variations in discontinuities), by freeze-thaw cycles and to a lesser extent, by large thermal variations. Gradual settling measured in the siltstone strata causes destabilization of sandstone strata and the eventual fall of sandstone blocks. In winter, rockfall frequency is 12 times higher during a superficial thaw than during a cold period in which temperature remains below 0°C. In summer, rockfall frequency is 22 times higher during a heavy rainfall event than during a period mainly dry. Superficial freeze-thaw cycle (< 50 cm) causes mostly a high frequency of small magnitude events while deeper spring thaw (> 100 cm) results in a high frequency of large magnitude events. Influence of meteorological conditions on mechanical deformations and on rockfall frequency and magnitude is crucial in order to improve risk management since large magnitude events represent higher potential hazards. This study provides a classification of meteorological conditions based on their ability to trigger rockfalls of different magnitudes which could be used to implement an adequate preventive risk management.

How to cite: Birien, T. and Gauthier, F.: Rock slope dynamics in flysch formation under cold climate (part 2): rock deformations and rockfall triggering factors, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-3207,, 2022.