Letter | Published:

Collapse at the eastern Eiger flank in the Swiss Alps

Nature Geoscience volume 1, pages 531535 (2008) | Download Citation

Abstract

Landslides are a significant natural hazard in mountainous regions1 and are often triggered by external factors, such as earthquakes, rainfall, permafrost melting or retreat of glaciers2. A large landslide occurred in the Swiss Alps on 13 July 2006, when portions of an immense rock spur on the eastern flank of the Eiger peak3 collapsed. Here we use field observations and terrestrial laser scanning data to record and quantify the relative motion along the various blocks of rock that form this spur. The data show that during the year of observation the blocks moved relative to one another by up to tens of metres along fractures that can be related to pre-existing planes of weakness. Rates of motion and deformation were high throughout July 2006, particularly in the northern part of the spur that partially collapsed on 13 July. The rates decreased considerably during the subsequent months, although a slight increase was noted in June and July 2007. These observations are consistent with instability of the spur initiated by subsidence of a single block at the rear, which acted as a wedge and disintegrated over time owing to loss of lateral confinement.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Pedrazzini, M. Frayssines, M. Dessimoz, J. Travelletti and R. Minoia from the University of Lausanne, P. Städelin and D. Weder from Geotest AG, C. Reymond and C. Rochat for assistance in the field and G. B. Crosta from the University of Milano—Bicocca and D. Stead from the Simon Fraser University for suggestions and comments on the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Institute of Geomatics and Analysis of Risk (IGAR), University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Thierry Oppikofer
    •  & Michel Jaboyedoff
  2. Geotest AG, 3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland

    • Hans-Rudolf Keusen

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Contributions

T.O. acquired and analysed the terrestrial laser scanner data. T.O. and M.J. elaborated the model of the instability and drafted the paper. All the authors contributed to discussing the results and finalizing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thierry Oppikofer.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo258

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