Changes in climate patterns and their association to natural hazard distribution in South Tyrol (Eastern Italian Alps)

Romy Schlögel, Christian Kofler, Stefano Luigi Gariano, Jean Van Campenhout & Stephen Plummer, 2020, Changes in climate patterns and their association to natural hazard distribution in South Tyrol (Eastern Italian Alps), Scientific reports (Nature Publishing Group) 10 (2020): 1–14. doi_10.1038/s41598-020-61615-w,

In Alpine regions changes in seasonal climatic parameters, such as temperature, rainfall, and snow amount have already been observed. Specifically, in the South Tyrol area, meteorological observations indicate that temperatures are increasing and the number of snow days has generally diminished over time with perennial snow line now observed at higher elevations. Changes in rainfall have also been observed with more events associated with higher temperatures in the summer season. Natural hazards - mainly debris and mud flows, landslides, avalanches, rock falls, and (flash) floods - that affect this area every year, damaging population and infrastructures, are either weather or cryosphere-related. While these events have been recorded sporadically since the beginning of the 20th century, a systematic approach of their inventory has been done by local authorities since the 1990s. So far, Earth observation data has not been exploited to complete or complement existing inventories nor have they been used to investigate the influence of climate perturbation on potentially dangerous natural phenomena. The research presented here thus has three objectives_ (i) analyse long time series of climate data and hazard occurrence in South Tyrol to examine if these records exhibit a coherent response of hazards to changes in climate; (ii) measure the spatio-temporal evolution of climatic and natural hazard events recorded, and (iii) explore potential relations between meteorological conditions and the hazard occurrence. In this context, in-situ and satellite-based climate data are exploited to study natural hazard triggers while the potential of Earth observation data is evaluated as a complement to the existing historical records of natural hazards. Specifically, Copernicus Sentinel-1 images are used to detect the spatio-temporal distribution of slow earth surface deformations and the results used for checking the completeness of the actual slow-moving landslide inventories. Hazard-related changes in the South Tyrolian landscape have also been analysed in relation to particular meteorological events at a regional scale, assessing trends and anomalies. Results show that_ (i) satellite data are very useful to complement the existing natural hazard inventories; (ii) in-situ and satellite-based climate records show similar patterns but differ due to regional versus local variability; (iii) even in a data-rich region such as the analysed area, the overall response of natural hazard occurrence, magnitude, and frequency to change in climate variables is difficult to decipher due to the presence of multiple triggers and locally driven ground responses. However, an increase in the average annual duration of rainfall events and debris flow occurrence can be observed.

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