19 Jun 2024
 | 19 Jun 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

An empirically-derived hydraulic head model controlling water storage and outflow over a decade in degraded permafrost rock slopes (Zugspitze, D/A)

Riccardo Scandroglio, Samuel Weber, Till Rehm, and Michael Krautblatter

Abstract. While recent permafrost degradation in Alpine peri- and paraglacial slopes has been documented in several studies, only restricted information is available on the respective hydrology. Water boosts permafrost degradation by advective heat transport and destabilizes periglacial mountain slopes. Even if multiple recent rock slope failures indicate the presence of water, only a few studies provide evidence of water availability and related hydrostatic pressures at bigger depths, showing a significant research gap. This study combines a unique decennial data set of meteorological data, snowmelt modeling, and discharge measurements from two rock fractures in a tunnel located ≈ 55 m under the permafrost-affected N-S facing Zugspitze Ridge (2815–2962 m asl). To decipher the hydrological properties of fractures, we analyze inputs, i.e., snowmelt and rainfall, and outputs, i.e., discharge from fractures, baseflow, and no-flow events, detecting flow anomalies. For summer precipitation events, we developed i) a uniform recession curve, ii) an empirical water storage model, and iii) an approximate hydraulic water pressure model according to Darcy’s falling-head law. Extreme events with up to 800 l/d and 58 l/h are likely to fully saturate the observed fractures with corresponding hydraulic heads of up to 40 ± 10 m and to increase fracture interconnectivity. The average daily discharge during snowmelt, 10 l/h, can lead to hydraulic heads up to 27 ± 6 m. Water dynamics suggest hydraulic conductivities in the range of 10−4 m/s, with variations according to the fracture’s saturation. E.g., no-flow and baseflow events indicate unsaturated and partially saturated conditions. Here, we show an empirical fluid flow approximation model of hydrostatic pressure regimes in high-alpine deep-bedrock fractures. Pressures from water accumulation in bedrock reach levels that can weaken or even destabilize rock slopes. This process can easily outpace thermal conductive warming of active layers in the foreseeable future, provide positive feedback on water infiltration, and is crucial for the stability of the rapidly warming alpine permafrost environments.

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Riccardo Scandroglio, Samuel Weber, Till Rehm, and Michael Krautblatter

Status: open (until 19 Aug 2024)

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Riccardo Scandroglio, Samuel Weber, Till Rehm, and Michael Krautblatter
Riccardo Scandroglio, Samuel Weber, Till Rehm, and Michael Krautblatter


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Short summary
Recent studies confirm that mountain permafrost is reducing, but there is little information on the role of water. This study looks at ten years of weather data and water flow in 50m-deep rock fractures. We precisely quantify the timing and quantities of this flow with a model. For the first time, we estimate pressures generated by water inside rock fractures. Pressures from snowmelt and rain events threaten slope stability; therefore, monitoring water's presence in permafrost areas is crucial.