Measurement of rock glacier surface change over different timescales using terrestrial laser scanning point clouds

Ulrich, Veit; Williams, Jack G.; Zahs, Vivien; Anders, Katharina; Hecht, Stefan; Höfle, Bernhard

Topographic change at a given location usually results from multiple processes operating over different timescales. However, interpretations of surface change are often based upon single values of movement, measured over a specified time period or in a single direction. This work presents a method to help separate surface change types that occur at different timescales related to the deformation of an active rock glacier, drawing on terrestrial lidar monitoring at sub-monthly intervals. To this end, we derive 3D topographic changes across the Äußeres Hochebenkar rock glacier in the Ötztal Alps. These changes are presented as the relative contribution of surface change during a 3-week period (2018) to the annual surface change (2017–2018). They are also separated according to the spatially variable direction perpendicular to the local rock glacier surface (using point cloud distance computation) and a single main direction of rock glacier flow, indicated by movement of individual boulders. In a 1500 minline-formula2 sample area in the lower tongue section of the rock glacier, the contribution of the 3-week period to the annual change perpendicular to the surface is 20 %, compared with 6 % in the direction of rock glacier flow. Viewing change in this way, our approach provides estimates of surface change in different directions that are dominant at different times of the year. Our results demonstrate the benefit of more frequent lidar monitoring and, critically, the requirement for novel approaches to quantifying and disaggregating surface change, as a step towards rock glacier observation networks focusing on the analysis of 3D surface change over time.

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Ulrich, Veit / Williams, Jack G. / Zahs, Vivien / et al: Measurement of rock glacier surface change over different timescales using terrestrial laser scanning point clouds. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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