Letter | Published:

Collapse at the eastern Eiger flank in the Swiss Alps

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


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.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    & Recent climatic change and catastrophic geomorphic processes in mountain environments. Geomorphology 10, 107–128 (1994).

  2. 2.

    in Landslides Investigation and Mitigation (eds Turner, A. K. & Schuster, R. L.) 76–90 (Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1996).

  3. 3.

    Eiger loses face in massive rockfall. News@Nature<> (2006).

  4. 4.

    Petrascheck, A. & Hegg, C. (eds) Hochwasser 2000 - Les crues 2000 (Federal Office for Water and Geology, Berne, Switzerland, 2002).

  5. 5.

    August 2005 intense rainfall event in Switzerland: Not necessarily an analog for strong convective events in a greenhouse climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L05701 (2006).

  6. 6.

    Topics Geo - Annual Review: Natural Catastrophes 2005 (Munich Reinsurance Company, Munich, Germany, 2006).

  7. 7.

    Die Herausforderung der Gefahrenprognose bei Massenbewegungen: Rutsch- und Sturzprozesse Markus Liniger. Bull. Appl. Geol. 11, 75–88 (2006).

  8. 8.

    & in Engineering Geology for Infrastructure Planning in Europe. A European Perspective (eds Hack, R., Azzam, R. & Charlier, R.) 179–190 (Springer, Berlin, 2004).

  9. 9.

    , , , & Terrestrial laser scanning for monitoring the process of hard rock coastal cliff erosion. Q. J. Eng. Geol. 38, 363–375 (2005).

  10. 10.

    , & Application of a long-range terrestrial laser scanner to a detailed rockfall study at Vall de Núria (Eastern Pyrenees, Spain). Eng. Geol. 88, 136–148 (2006).

  11. 11.

    , & Proc. XXth ISPRS Congress, IstanbulVol. 35, 246–251 (International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Istanbul, Turkey, 2004).

  12. 12.

    , , , & Rock mechanics: Meeting society’s challenges and demands. in Proc. 1st Canada–U.S. Rock Mechanics Symposium, Vancouver, Canada, May 27–31, 2007 (eds Eberhardt, E., Stead, D. & Morrison, E.) 113–120 (Taylor and Francis, London, 2007).

  13. 13.

    , & in Geo-information for Disaster Management (eds van Oosterom, P., Zlatanova, S. & Fendel, E. M.) 393–406 (Springer, Berlin, 2005).

  14. 14.

    , & Preliminary assessment of rockslide and rockfall hazards using a DEM (Oppstadhornet, Norway). Nat. Haz. Earth Syst. Sci. 5, 285–292 (2005).

  15. 15.

    Landslide susceptibility revealed by LiDAR imagery and historical records, Seattle, Washington. Eng. Geol. 89, 67–87 (2007).

  16. 16.

    & High resolution three-dimensional numerical modelling of rockfalls. Int. J. Rock Mech. Min. 40, 455–471 (2003).

  17. 17.

    & Objective landslide detection and surface morphology mapping using high-resolution airborne laser altimetry. Geomorphology 57, 331–351 (2004).

  18. 18.

    GK/SCNAT & VAW/ETHZ. The Swiss Glaciers, Yearbooks of the Glaciological Commission of the Swiss Academy of Science (SAS). () (Labratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW) of ETH Zürich, 2006).

  19. 19.

    , , & Fluctuations of climate and glaciers in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, and their geoecological significance, 1600 to 1975. Arct., Alp. Res. 10, 246–260 (1978).

  20. 20.

    Climate Change and Switzerland in 2050. Impacts on Environment, Society and Economy (OcCC/ProClim-, Bern, Switzerland, 2007).

  21. 21.

    , , & Kinematics of the 1991 Randa rockslides (Valais, Switzerland). Nat. Haz. Earth Syst. Sci. 3, 423–433 (2003).

  22. 22.

    & in Landslides Investigation and Mitigation (eds Turner, A. K. & Schuster, R. L.) 391–425 (Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1996).

  23. 23.

    , & Numerical analysis of initiation and progressive failure in natural rock slopes—the 1991 Randa rockslide. Int. J. Rock Mech. Min. 41, 69–87 (2004).

  24. 24.

    Mechanics of landslides with non-circular slip surfaces with special reference to the Vaiont slide. Geotechnique 16, 329–337 (1966).

  25. 25.

    et al. Seasonal movement of the Slumgullion landslide determined from Global Positioning System surveys and field instrumentation, July 1998–March 2002. Eng. Geol. 68, 67–101 (2003).

  26. 26.

    , , & The effect of weathering on Alpine rock instability. Q. J. Eng. Geol. 37, 95–103 (2004).

  27. 27.

    & Failure forecast for large rock slides by surface displacement measurements. Can. Geotech. J. 40, 176–191 (2003).

  28. 28.

    & Angular resolution of terrestrial laser scanners. The Photogrammetric Record 21, 141–160 (2006).

  29. 29.

    , , & 3rd IAG/12th FIG Symp., Baden, Austria (International Association of Geodesy & International Federation of Surveyors, Baden, Austria, 2006).

  30. 30.

    & Proc. 7th Conf. Optical 3D Measurement Techniques, Vienna, AustriaVol. 2, 61–70 (Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria, 2005).

Download references


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


  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


  1. Search for Thierry Oppikofer in:

  2. Search for Michel Jaboyedoff in:

  3. Search for Hans-Rudolf Keusen in:


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.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary figures S1-S3 and table S1

About this article

Publication history






Further reading