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      Fracture dynamics in an unstable, deglaciating headwall, Kitzsteinhorn, Austria

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      Copernicus GmbH

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          Abstract. Processes destabilising recently deglaciated rockwalls, driving cirque headwall retreat, and putting high alpine infrastructure at risk are poorly understood due to a lack of in situ monitoring data. Deglaciation initiates internal stress redistribution and drastically increases atmospheric forcing rendering cirque headwalls particularly prone for rock slope failure. Here we present quantitative data from an unstable, recently deglaciated cirque headwall. We monitor the dynamics of a fracture at the north face of the Kitzsteinhorn (3203 m a.s.l.) over a period of 2.5 years. Two crackmeters measure horizontal and vertical crack deformation with a resolution of ±0.003 mm and are complemented by crack top temperature measurements. To decipher thermo-mechanical from cryogenic forcing, thermal expansion coefficients for both horizontal and vertical directions are calculated to derive purely thermo-mechanical deformation. Our data shows that fracture dynamics are dominated by thermo-mechanical expansion and contraction of the inter-cleft rock mass during snow-covered and snow-free periods. Significant deviations from thermo-mechanical behavior occur due to freeze-thaw action during spring and autumn zero curtain periods. Exceptional vertical deformation during these periods is triggered by rainfall events providing liquid water into the fracture system. Subsequent refreezing rather than hydrostatic pressure build-up is to the most likely cause of the mechanical response. Lower magnitude horizontal deformation occurs in autumn and early winter due to ice segregation. Irreversible fracture opening was not observed, however, enhanced cryogenic deformation in spring and autumn may lead to shallow, low magnitude rock detachments. Our results highlight the importance of liquid water intake in combination with subzero-temperatures on the destabilisation of glacier headwalls. We conclude that intense frost action and ice segregation are common processes in randkluft systems, serving as important preparatory factors of paraglacial rock slope instability.

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          Copernicus GmbH
          April 15 2019
          © 2019


          Self URI (article page): https://tc.copernicus.org/preprints/tc-2019-42/


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