Trigger characteristics of torrential flows from high to low alpine regions in Austria

D. Prenner*, M. Hrachowitz, R. Kaitna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Torrential processes like fluvial flows (flash floods with or without intensive sediment transport) and debris flows can represent a threat to people and infrastructure in alpine domains. Up to now the hydro-meteorological trigger conditions and their connection with geomorphic watershed characteristics that favor the initiation of either process are largely unknown. Based on modeled wetness states we determined the trigger types (long-lasting rainfall (LLR), short-duration storm (SDS) and intense snow melt (SM)) of 360 observed debris flow and fluvial flood events in six climatically and geomorphologically contrasting watersheds in Austria. Results show that the watershed wetness states play very distinct roles for triggering torrential events across the study regions. Hydro-meteorological variables have little power to explain the occurrence of fluvial flows and debris flows in these regions. Nevertheless, trigger type separation highlighted some geomorphic influences. For example, intense SM triggered more events in sub-watersheds (torrential watersheds in the study region) that are characterized by significantly higher Melton ruggedness numbers than LLR does. In addition, the data show that events triggered by LLRs occur in sub-watersheds of similar exposures (aspects) other than SDS. The results suggest that the consideration of different trigger types provides valuable information for engineering risk assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)958-972
Number of pages15
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Debris flows
  • Fluvial flows
  • Geomorphology
  • Hydrology
  • Trigger


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