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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
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Research article 13 Jun 2018

Research article | 13 Jun 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Inferring the destabilization susceptibility of mountain permafrost in the French Alps using an inventory of destabilized rock glaciers

Marco Marcer1,2, Charlie Serrano1,2, Alexander Brenning3, Xavier Bodin2, Jason Goetz3, and Philippe Schoeneich1 Marco Marcer et al.
  • 1Institut d’Urbanisme et Géographie Alpine, Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble, France
  • 2Laboratoire EDYTEM, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Savoie Mont Blanc,Le Bourget-du-Lac, France
  • 3Department of Geography, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Jena, Germany

Abstract. Knowing the extent of degrading permafrost is a key issue in the context of emerging risks linked to climate change. In the present study we propose a methodology to estimate the spatial distribution of this phenomenon, focusing on the French Alps. At first, using recent orthoimages (2000 to 2013) covering the study region, we mapped the geomorphological features that can be typically found in cases of rock glacier destabilization (e.g. crevasses and scarps). This database was then used as support tool to rate rock glaciers destabilization. The destabilization rating was assigned also taking into account the surface deformation patterns of the rock glacier, observable by comparing the orthoimages. The destabilization rating served as database to model the occurrence of destabilization in relation to terrain attributes and to predict the susceptibility to destabilization at the regional scale. Potential destabilization could be observed in 58 rock glaciers, i.e. 12 of the total active rock glaciers in the region. Potentially destabilized rock glaciers were found to be more prone to strong acceleration than stable rock glaciers within the period 2000–2013. Modelling the occurrence of destabilization suggested that this phenomenon is more likely to occur in elevations around the 0°C isotherm (2700–2900m.s.l.), on north-exposed, steep (up to 30°) and flat to slightly convex topographies. Model performances were good (AUROC: 0.76) and the susceptibility map reproduced well the observable patterns. About 3km2 of creeping permafrost, i.e. 10% of the surface occupied by active rock glaciers, had a high susceptibility to destabilization. Only half of this surface is currently showing destabilization evidence, suggesting that a significant amount of rock glaciers are candidates for future destabilization.

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