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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-56
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-56
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 29 Oct 2019

Submitted as: research article | 29 Oct 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf).

The role of frost cracking in local denudation of steep Alpine headwalls over millennia (Mt. Eiger, Switzerland)

David Mair1, Alessandro Lechmann1, Romain Delunel1, Serdar Yeşilyurt1, Dmitry Tikhomirov1,2, Christof Vockenhuber3, Marcus Christl3, Naki Akçar1, and Fritz Schlunegger1 David Mair et al.
  • 1Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Bern, 3012, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, 8057, Switzerland
  • 3Laboratory of Ion Beam Physics, ETH Zurich, Zurich, 8093, Switzerland

Abstract. Denudation of steep headwalls is driven by rock fall processes of various size and magnitude. They are sensitive to temperature changes mainly because thermo-cryogenic processes weaken bedrock through fracturing, thus pre-conditioning rock fall. However, these controls and conditions thereof on the denudation processes operating on steep headwalls have remained debated. In this study, we link new and published long-term headwall denudation rate data for the Eiger Mountain in the Central Swiss Alps with the local bedrock fabric and the temperature conditions at these sites, which depend on the insolation pattern. We then estimate the tendency of bedrock for failure through the employment of a theoretical frost cracking model, which bases on the reconstructed temperature conditions. The results show that the denudation rates are low in the upper NW headwall compared to the high rates both on the NW footwall and on the SE face, despite similar bedrock fabric conditions. For these sites, the frost cracking model predicts a large difference in cracking intensity from ice segregation where the inferred efficiency is low in the upper NW headwall, but relatively large on the lower footwall of the NW wall and on the SE flank of the Eiger. We explain this pattern by the differences in insolation and local temperature conditions. These contrasts might be enhanced by permafrost occurrence in the upper NW wall, which would further reduce cracking efficiency. Throughout the last millennium, conditions have been very similar to the present temperatures in bedrock. These data thus suggest the occurrence of large contrasts in microclimate between the NW and SE walls of the Eiger, conditioned by differences in insolation, which explain the relatively low denudation rates in the upper NW headwall of the Eiger, but the rapid denudation in the SW side and NW footwall of the Eiger where frost cracking is more efficient.

David Mair et al.
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