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Impacts of land-use and land-cover changes on rockfall propagation: Insights from the Grenoble conurbation

Lopez-Saez, Jérôme, Corona, Christophe, Eckert, Nicolas, Stoffel, Markus, Bourrier, Franck, Berger, Frédéric
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.547 pp. 345-355
afforestation, energy, forests, global warming, land cover, land use, landscapes, probability, rockfalls, urbanization, villages, viticulture, Alps region, France
Several studies have debated the incidence of global warming on the probability of rock instability, whereas the impacts of land use and land cover (LULC) changes on rockfall propagation and associated hazards have received comparably little interest. In this study we evaluate the impacts of LULC changes on rockfall hazards on the slopes above the village of Crolles (Chartreuse massif, Grenoble conurbation, French Alps) through a three-level approach: (i) diachronic landscape analysis for four different periods of the past (i.e. 1850, 1956, 1975, and 2013), (ii) computation of 3D rockfall simulations taking explicitly account of reconstructed LULC changes, and (iii) resulting changes in rockfall hazards over time. We reveal that the disappearance of viticultural landscapes (relating to the decline of cropping areas during the interwar period) and intense afforestation of the steepest upper portion of the slope resulted in a significant increase of rockfall return period associated to a gradual decrease of mean kinetic energy at the level of the urban front of Crolles. According to the Eurobloc methodology, the degree of hazard decreased significantly despite the continuous and rapid urban sprawl on the slopes. These results underline that forests can indeed have significant protection function but also call for a more systematic inclusion of LULC changes in hazard assessments in the future.