EGU23-5126, updated on 22 Feb 2023
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Quantifying controlling factors of ice segregation in alpine rocks 

Till Mayer1, Missy Eppes2, and Daniel Draebing1
Till Mayer et al.
  • 1Chair of Geomorphology, University of Bayreuth, Germany.
  • 2Department of Geography & Earth Sciences, UNC Charlotte, USA.

Rockwall erosion by rockfall processes proceed at rates between 0.05 ±0.03 to 14.4 mm a-1 (Draebing et al., 2022) and are key agents of alpine landscape evolution. Previous studies suggest that frost weathering is a major contributing process to alpine rockwall erosion (Draebing and Mayer, 2021). Frost weathering occurs primarily by frost cracking driven by ice segregation, but our current process understanding is based on studies focusing on high-porosity low-strength rocks. However, rock types forming alpine rockwalls are characterized by crack-dominated porosity and high rock strength, therefore, it is unclear how past findings from low-strength rocks apply in these settings. In this study, we will perform laboratory ice segregation tests on rock samples with different saturation levels and fracture density to quantify their influence on frost cracking efficacy.

We used Wetterstein limestone rock samples in laboratory experiments and exposed rocks to realistic-rockwall freezing conditions while monitoring acoustic emissions as a proxy for cracking. To differentiate triggers of cracking, we modelled ice pressures and thermal stresses. We tested the influence of (i) saturation (low versus full initial saturation), (ii) crack density (0.4 versus 0.6 % rock porosity), and (iii) temperature range (-10 to 0°C) on the efficacy of ice segregation.

(i)  Our data showed that the efficacy of ice segregation is not controlled by initial water content in alpine rocks. These results suggest that water available at depth within alpine rock masses can rapidly travel along fractures to form ice lenses near the rock surface.

 (ii) Crack density has a direct impact on the elastic properties of rocks, which shifts the stress threshold for crack propagation. A fractured rock with high crack density is less prone to ice segregation as its lower brittleness increases the critical fracture toughness.

(iii) Our data revealed temperature patterns promoting ice segregation with highest rates of frost cracking at temperatures between -10 and -7 °C in high strength Wetterstein limestone.

We conclude that frost cracking efficacy in high alpine environments is more impacted by temperatures than by initial rock moisture, which potentially results in more rockfall at colder north- than warmer south-facing rockwalls.


Draebing, D., Mayer, T., Jacobs, B., and McColl, S. T.: Alpine rockwall erosion patterns follow elevation-dependent climate trajectories, Communications Earth & Environment, 3, 21,, 2022.


Draebing, D., and Mayer, T.: Topographic and geologic controls on frost cracking in Alpine rockwalls, Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 126, e2021JF006163,, 2021.

How to cite: Mayer, T., Eppes, M., and Draebing, D.: Quantifying controlling factors of ice segregation in alpine rocks , EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-5126,, 2023.