Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Earth Surf. Dynam., 5, 283–292, 2017

Special issue: From process to signal – advancing environmental...

Earth Surf. Dynam., 5, 283–292, 2017

Research article 23 May 2017

Research article | 23 May 2017

Single-block rockfall dynamics inferred from seismic signal analysis

Clément Hibert1, Jean-Philippe Malet1, Franck Bourrier2, Floriane Provost1, Frédéric Berger2, Pierrick Bornemann1, Pascal Tardif2, and Eric Mermin2 Clément Hibert et al.
  • 1Institut de Physique du Globe de Strasbourg, CNRS UMR 7516, University of Strasbourg/EOST, 5 rue Descartes, 67084 Strasbourg, France
  • 2Institut national de recherche en sciences et technologies pour l'environnement et l'agriculture (IRSTEA), 2 Rue de la Papeterie, 38402 Saint-Martin-d'Hères, France

Abstract. Seismic monitoring of mass movements can significantly help to mitigate the associated hazards; however, the link between event dynamics and the seismic signals generated is not completely understood. To better understand these relationships, we conducted controlled releases of single blocks within a soft-rock (black marls) gully of the Rioux-Bourdoux torrent (French Alps). A total of 28 blocks, with masses ranging from 76 to 472 kg, were used for the experiment. An instrumentation combining video cameras and seismometers was deployed along the travelled path. The video cameras allow reconstructing the trajectories of the blocks and estimating their velocities at the time of the different impacts with the slope. These data are compared to the recorded seismic signals. As the distance between the falling block and the seismic sensors at the time of each impact is known, we were able to determine the associated seismic signal amplitude corrected for propagation and attenuation effects. We compared the velocity, the potential energy lost, the kinetic energy and the momentum of the block at each impact to the true amplitude and the radiated seismic energy. Our results suggest that the amplitude of the seismic signal is correlated to the momentum of the block at the impact. We also found relationships between the potential energy lost, the kinetic energy and the seismic energy radiated by the impacts. Thanks to these relationships, we were able to retrieve the mass and the velocity before impact of each block directly from the seismic signal. Despite high uncertainties, the values found are close to the true values of the masses and the velocities of the blocks. These relationships allow for gaining a better understanding of the physical processes that control the source of high-frequency seismic signals generated by rockfalls.