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MINI REVIEW article

Front. Earth Sci., 21 January 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/feart.2020.605061

Debris Flow Modelling Using RAMMS Model in the Alpine Environment With Focus on the Model Parameters and Main Characteristics

  • Department of Environmental Civil Engineering, Faculty of Civil and Geodetic Engineering, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Debris flows are among the natural hazards that can occur in mountainous areas and endanger people’s lives and cause large economic damage. Debris flow modelling is needed in multiple applications such as design of protection measures or preparation of debris flow risk maps. Many models are available that can be used for debris flow modelling. The Rapid Mass Movement Simulation (RAMMS) model with its debris flow module, (i.e. RAMMS-DF) is one of the most commonly used ones. This review provides a comprehensive overview of past debris flow modelling applications in an alpine environment with their main characteristics, including study location, debris flow magnitude, simulation resolution, and Voellmy-fluid friction model parameter ranges, (i.e. μ and ξ). A short overview of each study is provided. Based on the review conducted, it is clear that RAMMS parameter ranges are relatively wide. Furthermore, model calibration using debris-flow post-event survey field data is the essential step that should be done before applying the model. However, an overview of the parameters can help to limit the parameter ranges. Particularly when considering the similarity between relevant case studies conducted in similar environments. This is especially relevant should the model be applied for estimating debris-flow hazard for potential future events. This model has been used mostly in Europe, (i.e. Alpine region) for modelling small and extremely large debris flows.

Introduction

According to the updated Varnes classification, debris flows are defined as very to extremely rapid surging flows of saturated debris that occur in steep channels with significant entrainment of material and water (Hungr et al., 2014). Due to these characteristics debris flows can cause large economic damage and endanger human lives (Mikoš et al., 2004, 2007). Especially endangered are the so-called debris flows and torrential fans, (i.e. alluvial fans). These are relatively flat parts of mountainous regions that are often quite heavily populated (Bezak et al., 2019). Reliable debris flow prediction is often not possible due to limited geological information or details about triggering mechanisms such as extreme rainfall event (Takahashi, 2014). Therefore, the so-called back analysis of past debris flow events can be used to design engineering measures to reduce the risk (Rickenmann et al., 2006; Simoni et al., 2012; Bezak et al., 2020). Additionally, debris flow modelling can also be used for several other applications such as definition of risk maps. For these purposes, different types of debris flow models can be used (Rickenmann et al., 2006; Cesca and D’Agostino, 2008). This study reviews more than 30 past worldwide applications of the Rapid Mass Movement Simulation (RAMMS) model and its debris flow module (RAMMS-DF). This software is one of the available tools that can be used for debris flow modelling (Christen et al., 2012; RAMMS, 2017).

RAMMS and Debris Flow Modelling

The RAMMS model uses depth-averaged shallow water equations for granular flow in the single-phase model for debris flow modelling (RAMMS, 2017). The model employs the Voellmy-fluid friction model that includes two parameters, (i.e. the dry-Coulomb type friction μ (Mu) and the viscous-turbulent friction ξ (Xi)). These two parameters are usually calibrated, although other parameters such as stop parameter or simulation resolution also have an effect on the modelling results (Bezak et al., 2019). However, some of these are limited by data availability. A detailed description of the model’s theoretical background and key equations are provided in the user’s manual. Table 1 provides a review of more than 30 past studies that used RAMMS software for debris flow modelling. It can be seen that RAMMS model has been frequently applied in Europe, (i.e. for the Alpine region) while applications in South America and Asia were also included in the review (Table 1). Furthermore, it can be also seen that RAMMS was used for modelling relatively small debris flows, (i.e. 1,000 m3 or less) to extreme ones where their magnitude exceeds a couple of million m3 (Table 1). The simulation resolution was in most cases very high, especially considering large debris flow magnitudes with resolution ranging from less than 0.5 m to 20 or 30 m (Table 1). In most cases, the resolution was between 2 and 5 m (Table 1). Moreover, the Voellmy-fluid friction parameters covered wide ranges (Figure 1). Low values for the both parameters are prevailing, and only a few case studies used the parameters above the line connecting the end points: (μ = 0, ξ = 1,400 m/s2) (μ = 0.65, ξ = 0 m/s2). Nevertheless, they mostly stayed within the ranges indicated by Scheidl et al. (2013) as typical for debris flows (Table 1). More specifically, Dry-Coulomb type friction parameter μ (Mu) ranged from less than 0.001 to 0.7. Most often, the value of this parameter was around 0.1 or 0.2 (Table 1). The Viscous-turbulent friction parameter ξ (Xi) ranged from 10 m/s2 to 2,000 m/s2. Its value was most often between 200 and 500 m/s2 (Table 1). The debris flow magnitude slightly decreases and increases with increasing μ and ξ, respectively. Nevertheless, no significant correlation could be detected (Table 1). As illustrated, the RAMMS model was used for a variety of different applications, including modelling of the glacial lake outburst flood (Table 1). Figure 2 shows a result of a typical application of the RAMMS model in an alpine environment.

TABLE 1
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TABLE 1. A review of debris flow (DF) and Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) modelling using RAMMS software and its debris flow module. Studies are sorted by the publication year of the source, and then in alphabetical order. NA indicates that the information was not provided in the cited reference. Multiple parameters are shown when combinations of these parameters were used.

FIGURE 1
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FIGURE 1. Range of the Voellmy-fluid friction parameters (μ and ξ) used in the analyzed studies shown in Table 1, excluding one study with very large ξ parameter, (i.e. Chung et al., 2018).

FIGURE 2
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FIGURE 2. A typical RAMMS modelling results for the Urbas landslide (Koroška Bela Municipality, Slovenia) in a case of potential debris flow triggering. Maximum debris flow height and velocity are shown. Results using μ = 0.075 and ξ = 200 m/s2 and a hydrograph volume of 200,000 m3 and a peak discharge of 2,680 m3/s are presented.

Conclusion

No clear pattern can be observed in the reviewed studies regarding the frequency of the most suited friction parameters μ and ξ. Evidently, the RAMMS model parameters clearly depend on local debris flow characteristics such as topography, rheological properties, and hydro-meteorological conditions. Therefore, as already suggested in the RAMMS manual (RAMMS, 2017), model calibration should be the optimal way to determine the friction parameters that clearly have a significant impact on the modelling results (Table 1). Moreover, further research could focus on a better connection of the RAMMS model parameters with the physical features of an area or debris-flow material.

Author Contributions

MM prepared the first version of Table 1. NB made an update and verification of the table. Both authors contributed to the writing and editing of the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the financial support from the Slovenian Research Agency (research core funding No. P2-0180). The review was also supported by the Slovenian Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning.

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Keywords: debris flow, RAMMS, review, magnitude, friction parameter, alpine environment

Citation: Mikoš M and Bezak N (2021) Debris Flow Modelling Using RAMMS Model in the Alpine Environment With Focus on the Model Parameters and Main Characteristics. Front. Earth Sci. 8:605061. doi: 10.3389/feart.2020.605061

Received: 11 September 2020; Accepted: 22 December 2020;
Published: 21 January 2021.

Edited by:

Tao Zhao, Brunel University London, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Jia-wen Zhou, Sichuan University, China
Weigang Shen, Southwest Jiaotong University, China

Copyright © 2021 Mikoš and Bezak. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nejc Bezak, nejc.bezak@fgg.uni-lj.si