You are on page 1of 12


20: 345356 (2009) Published online 13 August 2009 in Wiley InterScience ( DOI: 10.1002/ppp.658

Exploring Steep Bedrock Permafrost and its Relationship with Recent Slope Failures in the Southern Alps of New Zealand
S. K. Allen ,1* S. Gruber 2 and I. F. Owens 1
1 2

Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand Glaciology, Geomorphodynamics & Geochronology, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland

ABSTRACT The central region of New Zealands Southern Alps is characterised by steep, glaciated slopes prone to rock mass failure, but permafrost conditions and any relevance to past or future slope instabilities have received little previous attention. A network of 15 dataloggers was used to record near-surface temperatures on steep rock walls located about the Main Divide of the Alps and further leeward where the climate is much drier. Mean annual rock temperature (MART) ranged from 1.9 to 5.48C, corresponding to local 08C elevations (E0) of 24653514 m, with no signicant difference observed between the humid and drier mountain ranges. On extremely shaded slopes, the permafrost limit may extend down towards 2000 m, but further measurements are needed to conrm this. E0 levels were modelled as a function of potential solar radiation, allowing steep permafrost distribution to be mapped across the region. From an inventory of 19 bedrock failures occurring about the Main Divide since the mid-20th century, 13 have initiated from source areas where MART in the range of / 1.88C is considered to indicate marginal permafrost conditions. None of these events was triggered by seismic activity, and mostly exhibit scarp areas that include or originate in close-to-ridge topography, where the most rapid permafrost degradation might be expected. Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

rock temperatures; mountain permafrost; bedrock stability; Southern Alps; New Zealand

INTRODUCTION In high mountain environments, geotechnical hazards are increasingly being considered in relation to possible interactions with changing glacial and permafrost conditions (e.g. Harris, 2005; Huggel, 2008). These studies have stemmed from initial theoretical discussions linking atmospheric warming, permafrost degradation and the stability of steep bedrock (Haeberli et al., 1997; Harris and Vonder hll, 2001). Laboratory studies have since demonMu strated that the shear strength of an ice-bonded rock
* Correspondence to: S. K. Allen, Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand. E-mail: Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

discontinuity signicantly reduces with warming, possibly having a factor of safety lower than that of an ice-free joint when warmed above  1.58C (Davies et al., 2001). Other factors including ice segregation and volume expansion are likely to predispose a rock discontinuity to subsequent failure upon warming (Gruber and Haeberli, 2007), and meltwater or ground water ow into a previously frozen fracture may cause elevated water pressure and reduced frictional strength (Harris, 2005). Reduced or absent snow and debris cover on steep slopes means that subsurface temperatures and related bedrock stability will respond rapidly to atmospheric warming, as was witnessed during the extremely warm European summer of 2003, when numerous rockfalls were associated with extreme heat uxes in the active
Received 11 March 2009 Revised 11 May 2009 Accepted 19 May 2009

346 S. K. Allen, S. Gruber and I. F. Owens

layer of the permafrost (Gruber et al., 2004a). Deeper warming of mountain permafrost (10100-m depth) is delayed in the order of decades, but larger failures from corresponding deeper detachment surfaces have been linked to zones of marginal or warming permafrost in the European Alps (Dramis et al., 1995; Bottino et al., 2002; Noetzli et al., 2003), where warming of 0.5 to 0.88C in the upper decametres has been measured over the past century (Harris et al., 2003). The central region of New Zealands Southern Alps is characterised by extremely steep, heavily glaciated bedrock slopes, with rock mass failures occurring frequently from fractured greywacke slopes which outcrop steeply along and east of the Main Divide. An average occurrence rate of rock avalanches greater than 106 m3 in volume is estimated at one per 20 to 30 years for this region of the Alps (McSaveney, 2002), although more numerous events in the order of 105 m3 have been observed over recent years (Cox et al., 2008). Any possible role of permafrost degradation relating to past or future rock failures in this region has until recently remained unexplored, and even basic knowledge of mountain permafrost distribution has been lacking. Following an initial estimate of permafrost distribution based on simple extrapolation of topo-climatic relationships (Allen et al., 2008), a network of 15 miniature temperature dataloggers was installed on steep rock faces in order to better quantify rock temperature and permafrost distribution. Here, the rst results from this study are presented and a modelling approach relating permafrost distribution in steep rock walls to potential solar radiation is described. Rock temperatures characterising failure zones from recent slope instabilities in the region are then explored, providing a basis for ongoing studies and discussion. STUDY AREA This Southern Alps of New Zealand are being actively formed by convergence of the Australian-Pacic tectonic plates along the Alpine Fault (Figure 1). Convergence across the plate boundary pushes thinned and submerged crust upwards into the path of a moist westerly atmospheric circulation. Differential uplift, erosion and rock exhumation across the Southern Alps have exposed transitions from uncleaved greywackes in the east, through weakly cleaved or fractured greywacke and foliated semischist about the hanging wall of the Main Divide Fault Zone, to strongly foliated amphibolite facies schist in the west adjacent to the Alpine Fault (Cox and Findlay, 1995).
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Uplift of the Southern Alps by folding and faulting continues to the present day at up to 10 mm yr1, and the entire area is subject to episodic shaking from high-magnitude (M78) earthquakes every 200 300 years (Wells et al., 1999). Very high orographic precipitation falls about the Main Divide (> 12 m y1), but an extreme leeward gradient produces < 2 m y1 only 20 km further to the southeast (Henderson and ve s Thompson, 1999). While extensive glacial ne occur immediately west and east of the divide, further leeward, glacial ice diminishes and dry talus slopes predominate (Figure 2), with localised rock glacier development (Brazier et al., 1998). Permanently snow-covered peaks are found between 2500 and 3754 m, with local relief in the order of 10002700 m. The timing of the Little Ice Age maximum varied across the region, but between 1750 and 1890 widespread retreat had begun, becoming most evident during the mid-20th century, and in total, a 49 per cent loss in ice area has been estimated (Hoelzle et al., 2007). Long-term climate records from the township of Hokitika (35 km west of the Main Divide) are considered the most reliable proxy for general climate changes in the Southern Alps, from which warming of 0.78C has been documented during the period 1920 90 (Salinger et al., 1995).

METHODS Rock Temperature Measurement Fifteen miniature temperature dataloggers were mounted onto steep rock faces during October/ November of 2007, following procedures described by Gruber et al. (2003). The installation strategy aimed to record two datasets containing near-surface rock temperature measurements from a range of slope aspects and elevations encompassing likely permafrost limits, with one dataset representing conditions near the Main Divide of the Alps and the other representing conditions from the drier Leeward Alps (Figure 1). Access into higher regions of the Southern Alps is difcult, with helicopter approaches often restricted by national park policies. In addition, extensive ice coverage on most steep rock faces near the Main Divide and poor-quality rock further limited the availability and suitability of installation sites above 3000 m. For the Main Divide installations, a prominent rocky ridge was used at the head of the Hooker Glacier, in the vicinity of Empress Hut (Figure 2A), with additional higher elevation
Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

Permafrost and Recent Slope Failures, New Zealand 347

Figure 1 Study region centred upon Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, Southern Alps, New Zealand. Rock temperature datalogger sites about the Main Divide and Leeward Alps are indicated (circles). Triangles denote large rockfalls and rock avalanches occurring since the mid-20th century (see Table 3 for abbreviations). The Alpine Fault (AF) traverses further to the northwest of the Main Divide, and arrows indicate the prevailing moisture-bearing winds responsible for foehn conditions leeward of the Main Divide. Base image: ASTER false colour composite, January 2006. This gure is available in colour online at

installations located near the summit of Mt Sefton. For the Leeward Alps, a 2.5-km section of the Liebig Range was used, culminating with installations near the summit of Mt Hutton (Figure 2B). Logger sensors were installed 10 cm into the rock walls within a tightly tting sealed hole. The main criteria for local site selection were: safe accessibility by abseil or climbing, homogenous rock surface and local slope aspect, and near-vertical slope angles such that snow accumulation would be minimal. Loggers were programmed to sample at two-hourly intervals for a 12-month period, thereby providing mean annual rock temperature (MARTlog) for the logger year.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Modelling Strategy Cryospheric modelling in the New Zealand Alps is limited by a lack of long-term high-elevation climate observations, such that extrapolations are frequently made from low-elevation recording stations in combination with various lapse rate values ranging from 0.0058C m1 near the Main Divide to 0.0088C m1 further leeward (e.g. Brazier et al., 1998; Anderson, 2003). Data from the Mt Cook Village station (765 m) have frequently been used for the central region of the Southern Alps, but extrapolating these data to higher elevations is faced
Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

348 S. K. Allen, S. Gruber and I. F. Owens

Figure 2 View towards sunny west-to-north-facing slopes where rock temperature dataloggers (arrows) were installed near the (A) Main Divide and (B) Leeward Alps. Empress hut is just visible atop the lower rock outcrop. Despite similar slope orientations and elevations, the extent of current glacierisation is notably different between the two sites. Photos: (A) S. Allen (15/01/07) and (B) S. Winkler (26/02/08). This gure is available in colour online at

with considerable uncertainty owing to cold air drainage and strong winter temperature inversions which distort the mean lapse rate. Therefore, the modelling strategy used here aims to minimise temperature extrapolations over large elevation differences and inherent lapse rate sensitivities using data from the more recently established, but much higher Rose Ridge station (1940 m) (Figure 1), with Mt Cook Village data used only to derive longer term climate uctuations. In addition, two shielded air temperature loggers were installed at  2500 m on top of exposed rock outcrops near Empress Hut (Main Divide) and on the Liebig Range, with hourly data used to calculate lapse rates back to Rose Ridge over the 12-month measurement period. These calculations support the use of a humid lapse rate of 0.0068C m1 for extrapolations near the Main Divide, increasing to 0.0078C m1 for sites in the drier Leeward Alps, recognising the strong inuence of the foehn winds on atmospheric moisture and humidity across the region (McGowan and Sturman, 1996). A lag time between subsurface and surface temperatures means that MARTlog derived from a single year was rst adjusted to more accurately reect longer term temperature trends. Mean annual air temperature (MAAT) from Mt Cook Village for the years 19802006 revealed the logger year to be 0.38C warmer than the longer term average of 8.88C. MART was therefore reduced by 0.38C at each logger site, converted to a local 08C elevation (E0) and expressed as a function of modelled potential annual radiation (Rpot). All GIS-based topographic and radiation modelling used ArcGIS1 (ESRI, Redlands, California) spatial analyst tools in combination with the Landcare Research level II digital terrain model generated with 25-m grid spacing from 1986 aerial photography,
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

and assessed to have a root mean square error of 58 m for hilly, steep terrain (Barringer et al., 2002). The solar radiation tools of ArcGIS1 generate potential direct and diffuse radiation for every 25-m pixel based on hemispherical viewshed algorithms (Rich et al., 1994; Fu and Rich, 2002). An idealised situation is modelled, assuming complete transmission of radiation through the atmosphere, with minimal diffuse radiation. While topographic shadowing is considered, the potential radiation reected from surrounding topography is not included in the calculation. RESULTS Rock Temperature In total, 14 complete temperature records were retrieved from elevations between 2400 and 3000 m (Table 1). MARTlog ranged from 1.9 to 5.48C, corresponding to adjusted E0 levels ranging from 24653514 m. E0 can be considered most reliable where MART approaches 08C, owing to remaining uncertainties with lapse rates used to adjust warmer or colder temperatures to the E0 level. Diurnal temperature variations were signicantly enhanced for sunny slopes on the Main Divide, where maximum daily temperatures exceeded 358C, while temperatures on equivalent slopes in the Leeward Alps rarely passed 308C (Figure 3). Minimum recorded temperatures ranged from 12 to 168C, and all loggers experienced prolonged periods with daily mean temperatures <08C during the coldest winter months of JuneAugust. It is interesting to note that unlike air temperature, which normally reaches a
Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

Permafrost and Recent Slope Failures, New Zealand 349 Table 1 Location and topographic characteristics for the 15 rock temperature logger installations. Logger ID MD-1 MD-2 MD-3 MD-4 MD-5 MD-6 MD-7 MD-8 MD-9 LA-1 LA-2 LA-3 LA-4 LA-5 LA-6

Location Main Divide Main Divide Main Divide Main Divide Main Divide Main Divide Main Divide Main Divide Main Divide Leeward Alps Leeward Alps Leeward Alps Leeward Alps Leeward Alps Leeward Alps (Earle Ridge) (Earle Ridge) (Earle Ridge) (Earle Ridge) (Earle Ridge) (Earle Ridge) (Mt Sefton) (Mt Sefton) (Mt Sefton) (Liebig Range) (Liebig Range) (Liebig Range) (Mt Hutton) (Mt Hutton) (Mt Hutton)

Elevation (m) 2800 2660 2540 2460 2420 2460 2750 3000 3100 2500 2490 2480 2720 2820 2820

Aspect (8) 346 348 190 290 246 240 38 281 134 298 128 60 318 324 237 (N) (N) (S) (W) (SW) (SW) (NE) (W) (SE) (NW) (SE) (NE) (NW) (NW) (SW)

Slope (8) 76 69 88 82 65 85 90 93 82 70 90 85 67 80 88

R(pot) (W/m2) 326 324 119 283 233 269 330 281 140 326 176 360 383 373 231

MART(log) (8C) 3.5 5.4 0.2 2.1 0.6 1.5 2.1 1.9

MART(log) MAAT (8C) 5.6 6.7 0.4 2.1 0.4 1.6 3.9 1.4

2.5 1.2 3.4 2.8 1.9 1.5

3.4 2.0 4.2 5.2 5.0 1.6

Current glacial conditions have prevented the safe retrieval of this logger. A second attempted retrieval is intended later in 2009. Abbreviations are dened in the text.

pronounced peak in January or February of each year, including during the logger year, mean rock temperature remained relatively stable during a prolonged warm period from November 2007 through to March 2008. Despite a recognised climate regime that might be expected to increase cloud cover and dampen the inuence of potential solar radiation nearer the Main

Divide, there appears to be no obvious difference in E0 and therefore likely permafrost limits between the Main Divide and Leeward Alps for given radiation inputs (Figure 4). However, two outlying data points occur, located on sunny north-facing slopes at 2800 and 2660 m near the Main Divide, where E0 far exceeds the values derived from measurements at other similar and higher radiation sites. If these

Figure 3 Two-hourly near-surface (10 cm) rock wall temperature measurements recorded over a 12-month period (MARTlog) from installations near the (A and B) Main Divide and (C and D) Leeward Alps. The black line indicates the seven-day running average. This gure is available in colour online at

Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

350 S. K. Allen, S. Gruber and I. F. Owens

Figure 4 Measured E0 (elevation at 08C) plotted in relation to modelled potential solar radiation at each datalogger site. The solid black lines separate three permafrost zones used for distribution modelling, while dotted lines indicate the more likely non-linear relationship that denes these zones. Lapse rate variations in the order of /0.00058C m1 correspond to maximum E0 uncertainties ranging from /580 m.

are treated as outliers, then the regression line tted to the remaining 12 data points, relating E0 (y) to modelled Rpot (x) is described by: y 2:5x 2070 R2 0:78 (1)

realistically be expected even at elevations where MAAT remains positive, in areas of extreme topographic shading where potential radiation falls below  100 W/m2. Permafrost Distribution Modelling

As an additional evaluation, MAAT from Rose Ridge was extrapolated to the elevation of each logger site, compared to MARTlog and plotted in relation to Rpot (Figure 5; Table 1). This reveals bedrock temperatures to be a maximum of 478C warmer on sunny slope faces than estimated air temperature at the same elevation, while this temperature difference decreases to  08C for measurements captured on lower radiation slopes. Maximum errors relating to lapse rate uncertainties are in the range of /0.58C. These results clearly indicate that permafrost may

The departures of measured E0 values from the line of best t are within an elevation range of /300 m for all but the two outlying measurements, which equates to MART variations of /1.82.18C (Figure 4). Corresponding upper and lower limits were therefore used for permafrost distribution modelling, above which permafrost is expected in most instances and below which terrain is considered mostly free of permafrost. Between these limits, a zone of marginal ( 08C) permafrost is possible, where warm

Figure 5 The difference between mean annual rock temperature (MARTlog) and estimated mean annual air temperature (MAAT) at each rock temperature logger site. A humid lapse rate of 0.0068C m1 was used to extrapolate MAAT from Rose Ridge (1940 m) to the Main Divide sites, increasing to 0.0078C m1 for extrapolations toward the Leeward Alps. The error bars indicate the range of values resulting from alternative lapse rates of /0.00058C m1.

Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

Permafrost and Recent Slope Failures, New Zealand 351

or degrading conditions can be expected. The actual likelihood of permafrost occurring within this zone can be qualitatively inferred from the difference between modelled E0 and local elevation (H), such that terrain located 200 m above E0 is more likely to exhibit permafrost than terrain located 200 m below. These limits represent a conservative simplication of what in reality is likely to be a complex relationship. In particular, the presence of outlying values suggests that temperature variability and therefore model uncertainty will be greater as radiation inputs increase, corresponding with observations from energy balance modelling in the Swiss Alps (Gruber et al., 2004b). Also, the relative importance of short-wave versus long-wave radiation is likely to increase towards higher elevations. Both factors suggest a linear approach to permafrost modelling probably underestimates the upper limit of the marginal permafrost zone in the central Southern Alps. As radiation input decreases to low levels on shaded slopes, a closer correspondence with air temperature should restrict temperature variations and therefore model uncertainty. Although rock temperature data are missing from extremely shaded slopes in this study, recent analyses of active rock glaciers occurring in shaded cirque basins in the Leeward Alps revealed initiation altitudes above  2000 m in all instances, with only fossil or inactive forms evident at lower levels (Allen et al., 2008). While temperatures within a rock glacier are likely to be several degrees colder than a vertical rock wall (Gruber et al., 2003), nonvertical situations or more highly fractured bedrock are likely to be colder than the idealised slopes measured (Gruber and Haeberli, 2007). Therefore, 2000 m is considered here to be an appropriate estimated lower limit to the marginal permafrost zone on the most highly-shaded slopes. On the basis of these altitudinal limits, terrain classication reveals approximately six per cent of land area in the central Southern Alps to be either in a zone of marginal permafrost or where permafrost is expected in most instances (Table 2). However, nearly half of all potential permafrost terrain is currently covered by glacial ice, including cliff-type and

hanging glaciers on steeper terrain, which will inuence thermal regimes at the underlying rock-ice interface (Wegmann et al., 1998; Huggel, 2008). It must also be reiterated that the modelling is based on data from steep rock faces (> 458), and therefore results should be treated cautiously for more gentle terrain which comprises over half of the slopes indentied within the marginal permafrost zone. In these instances, snow and debris accumulation will combine to decouple ground temperatures from the direct inuence of solar radiation and air temperature. Recent Rock Failure and Bedrock Temperatures MART was estimated for 19 large rockfall and rock avalanche failure zones occurring in the central Southern Alps since the mid-20th century (Table 3). Pre-failure topography cannot be reconstructed in most instances, but failure depths ranging from 30 60 m are described for recent larger rock avalanches (e.g. McSaveney, 2002; Cox et al., 2008). With the exception of a rainfall-triggered event originating from above the Murchison Glacier, all other failures have appeared to be spontaneous and unrelated to any seismic activity. The majority of these failures have originated from near the Main Divide, and particularly east-southeastern expositions of the Main Divide Fault Zone, where greywacke slopes are particularly steep, fractured and cross-cut by secondary faulting. A large rock avalanche from Mt Adams is the only recent event to originate from schist terrain exposed nearer to the Alpine Fault (Hancox et al., 2005). Calculation of MART was based on the difference between modelled E0 and local elevation (H): MART Tz E0 H (2)

where a humid lapse rate (T(z)) of 0.0068C m1 was considered appropriate for areas about the Main Divide. A large range is evident between maximum and minimum temperatures within some of the source areas, owing to the elevation difference between the

Table 2 Permafrost terrain classication for the central Southern Alps of New Zealand. H-E0 >300 m 300300 m <300 m Permafrost classication Mostly permafrost Marginal permafrost Mostly not permafrost Total land area 12 km (1%) 102 km2 (5%) 1944 km2 (94%)

Proportion > 458 slope 75% 41% 12%

Proportion glacierised 41% 44% 16%

Abbreviations are dened in the text.

Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

352 S. K. Allen, S. Gruber and I. F. Owens Table 3 Recent rock failures occurring about the Main Divide of the central Southern Alps (after McSaveney, 2002; Hancox et al., 2005; Korup, 2005; Cox et al., 2008). Modelled bedrock temperatures are indicated for the source area and also the surrounding slope facets. Location and ID Date Total area (source and deposit) (km2) 0.66 0.25 0.43 0.24 14.6 2.22 2.22 0.37 0.30 0.17 14.7 0.42 0.18 0.49 0.03 0.05 0.02 0.03 0.38 Source aspect SE E E NW S E E/SE W E E N SE/S E SE SE NW NW E S Distance from ridge (m) 320 60 50 > 500 0 0 0 50 250 80 0 70 > 500 > 500 50 0 0 0 60 Max MART (8C) 4.6 2.4 2.9 7.4 3.2 0.3 4.8 4.3 5.9 3.5 10.3 1.3 7.1 4.1 0.3 0.5 2.5 1.8 0.6 Min MART (8C) 0.6 1.3 4.2 5.9 1.7 6.7 0.8 1.3 2.5 1.5 4.5 2.0 6.4 2.1 1.7 0.2 1.8 0.9 2.0 Min MART (adjacent facets) (8C) 0.8 0.6 4.2 4.2 1.5 6.9 0.6 0.0 0.5 0.1 2.2 2.2 5.1 2.1 1.8 3.9 0.5 1.4 2.2

Mt Isobel (MI1) Mt Isobel (MI2) Mt Vancouver (MV) Murchison Glacier (MG) Beelzebub Glacier (BG) Mt Cook (MC) Mt Fletcher (MF) La Perouse (LP) Mt Thompson (MT1) Mt Thomson (MT2) Mt Adams (MA) Vampire Peak (VP1) Mt Beatrice (MB) Anzak Peaks (AP) Vampire Peak (VP2) Douglas Peak (DP) Mt Spencer (MS) Mt Halcombe (MH) Malte Brun (MBN)

19501955 ca. 1965 19741975 Dec 1975 19801984 Dec 1991 May 1992 Sep 1992 19941995 Feb 1996 20022004 Oct 1999 2003 Nov 2004 20072008 Jan 2008 Feb 2008 April 2008 April 2008 Feb 2009 Feb 2009

Failures occurred from a common source area. Abbreviations are dened in the text.

top and bottom of the failure zone, and also subtle changes in slope aspect within the failure scars. However, it is striking to note that 13 of the recent failure zones are either fully or partially located within the zone of marginal permafrost, with maximum or minimum temperatures in the range of 1.81.88C (Figure 6; Table 3). The possible role of permafrost degradation and related weakening mechanisms must be considered relevant in these cases. It is particularly interesting to note that large failures from Mt Cook (MC) (12 106 m3) and Mt Fletcher (MF) (8 and 5 106 m3) occurred in relative close succession, and both have bedrock within the failure zone approaching marginal temperatures of  08C (Figure 6). Initial estimates had indicated the high elevation of the Mt Cook failure to be well within a zone of cold permafrost (Allen et al., 2008). However, consideration of potential solar radiation striking the multifaceted buttress topography of the failure zone shows that large MART variations are possible in both plan and prole directions (Figure 7A), encouraging further investigation regarding any role permafrost may have played in this massive failure.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

As a result of three-dimensional thermal exchanges, it has been recognised that permafrost and therefore permafrost-related instabilities can occur only metres to decametres beneath a mountain slope where nearsurface MART may be positive, owing to the inuence of adjacent, much colder slope facets (Noetzli et al., 2007). This possible inuence is broadly evaluated here by also considering the minimum temperatures of all slope facets surrounding the rock failure zones within a circular radius approximated by the length of the source area (Figure 7). Not surprisingly, failure zones occurring on sun-exposed slopes exhibit the coldest-surrounding slope facets, but temperature differences rarely exceed 238C (Table 3). Perhaps of greater signicance is the fact that all but one of the source areas characterised by marginal permafrost are positioned within 100 m of topographic ridges, where, if permafrost is indeed present, Noetzli and Gruber (2009) have demonstrated that the most rapid degradation may be expected as a result of atmospheric warming. The occurrence of large failures such as Mt Adams (MA) (10 15 106 m3), however, which appear unrelated to
Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

Permafrost and Recent Slope Failures, New Zealand 353

Figure 6 Modelled mean annual rock temperature (MART) and permafrost conditions characterising the source area of 19 rock failures occurring about the Main Divide of the Southern Alps since the mid-20th century. MART and permafrost zonation are based on a lapse rate of 0.0068C m1. Also indicated are mean annual air temperature departures from the mean 19492009 (grey) measured at Mt Cook Village (765 m). See Table 3 for abbreviated rock failures.

warm permafrost conditions, reinforces that large, spontaneous failures can occur in this region with no apparent relationships to climate and/or seismic triggering. MAAT recorded at Mt Cook Village has uctuated since the mid-20th century and no long-term trend is statistically tenable, although the most recent anomalously warm years occurred in 1998 and 1999 (Figure 6). A cluster of smaller rock failures (failure volumes 104105 m3) documented since 2000, occurring from source areas within or near the marginal permafrost zone, have in some instances

been associated with warmer than average summer air temperatures (Cox et al., 2008), but an increased frequency of failures has not been inferred because the historical record is considered incomplete. During mid- to late-summer 2008, a series of spontaneous events fell from Vampire Peak (VP2), Douglas Peak (DP) and Mt Halcombe (MH), all exhibiting source areas with marginal permafrost temperatures, while Mt Spencer (MS) appears to be characterised by slightly warmer temperatures (Figures 6 and 8). A second, larger failure from Mt Halcombe occurred in 2009, probably representing a progressive failure

Figure 7 Modelled mean annual rock temperature (MART) for slopes steeper than 458characterising (A) the summit pyramid from which the 1991 Mt Cook rock avalanche originated and (B) the ridge topography from which the 1992 Mt Fletcher rock avalanches originated. The circle indicates the area within which MARTs from surrounding slope facets were considered relevant to the source area (Table 3). Note the temperature and distance scale change between (A) and (B).

Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

354 S. K. Allen, S. Gruber and I. F. Owens

Figure 8 Mean annual rock temperatures indicated within the failure zones of recent instabilities occurring from (A) Vampire Peak, (B) Douglas Peak, (C) Mt Spencer and (D) Mt Halcombe. Photos: (A) Don Bogie, (B, D) Greg King and (C) Gottlieb Braun-Elwert. The maximum elevation and height difference between the top and bottom of the source areas are also indicated. This gure is available in colour online at

sequence, as was described for the Mt Fletcher rock avalanches in 1992 (McSaveney, 2002). The latest failure from Mt Halcombe occurred nearly 12 months after the rst event, during the warmth of mid-summer, and was followed by a much larger rock avalanche from the cold southern slopes of Malte Brun (MBN).

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS Relating near-surface ground temperature measurements to GIS-modelled potential solar radiation minimises reliance on high-elevation climate data, which are often lacking in sparsely populated or remote mountain regions, and recognises that permafrost may extent to unexpectedly low elevations in cases of extreme topographic shading. Lower permafrost limits modelled here estimate marginal conditions extending down to approximately 2000 m on
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

extremely shaded slopes, rising to 3000 m on sunny slope aspects, corresponding well with previous ruleof-thumb estimates for the central Southern Alps (Allen et al., 2008). However, outlying measurements from near the Main Divide suggest upper limits to the marginal permafrost zone may extend towards 3500 m in some instances. The most plausible explanation for these high values relates to considerable radiation inputs reecting from surrounding rn/snow-covered terrain, signicantly raising daytime rock temperatures. Both outlying values are from sun-facing logger sites located on the lower half of a rock wall ve with characteristisurrounded by a large glacial ne cally high albedo (Figure 2A). In contrast, loggers installed on similar sunny slope aspects in the drier Leeward Alps have no surrounding glacial ice and only dry talus slopes with signicantly lower albedos (Figure 2B). Given the extent of glacial ice surrounding the Main Divide peaks and the signicant decrease in snow/ice accumulation leeward, the extent to which variable terrain reection inuences rock
Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

Permafrost and Recent Slope Failures, New Zealand 355

wall temperatures across the region remains an interesting avenue for future work. Ideally, future research will also establish a larger dataset for calibrating and assessing the relationship between MART and R(pot) in this and other remote mountain regions. Relating specically to this research, measurements are currently lacking from extremely shaded slopes, where potential radiation may fall below 50 W/m2. While the relationship between solar radiation and bedrock temperature is expected ller et al., 2001), measureto be non-linear (Etzelmu ments are needed to establish the lower limit of permafrost distribution on the most shaded slope topography in the Southern Alps. In the meantime, a conservative lower limit of 2000 m is considered appropriate. Considering 20th-century climate warming of approximately 0.78C, actual permafrost limits are likely to extend 100150 m lower than indicated here, with possible relict permafrost occurring at depth within a rock face. In addition, variations in rock thermal conductivity resulting from porewater-phase changes and the highly fractured active layer of greywacke bedrock in the Southern Alps will contribute to greater cooling and lower temperatures at depth relative to the rock surface (Gruber and Haeberli, 2007). Therefore, further discussion regarding rock failures and potential atmospheric warming/ permafrost degradation in the Southern Alps should consider failure depths and implications relating to the three-dimensional evolution of mountain permafrost. Important considerations concerning failures from near-ridge topography include the thickness of the ridge and the transfer of heat from colder to warmer slope faces (Noetzli et al., 2007; Noetzli and Gruber, 2009), and the inuence of variable glacial cover on opposing slope faces (Huggel, 2008). The recognition of rock failures occurring from marginal permafrost terrain does not in itself establish subsurface warming and ice degradation as a causal factor in these events. However, cataloging these occurrences from the Southern Alps of New Zealand contributes to the wider documentation of landsliding and related hazards in permafrost environments that should lead to improved understanding regarding atmospheric warming and slope stability. Furthermore, there is a high probability that a large-magnitude earthquake will trigger widespread rock failure throughout the Southern Alps within the next 50100 years (e.g. McSaveney, 2002). Similar additive effects of seismicity and bedrock weakening by permafrost degradation are likely in other tectonically active mountainous regions of the world under the inuence of climate change.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS We are grateful for project funding provided by the New Zealand Earthquake Commission. This research would not have been possible without the generous time and effort given in the eld by Owen Kilgour. Christian Huggel has provided general support and positive suggestions towards this project. Recent rock failures have been documented in collaboration with Simon Cox, Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS), Dunedin. We are thankful for the constructive suggestions provided by two anonymous reviewers.

Allen S, Owens I, Huggel C. 2008. A rst estimate of mountain permafrost distribution in the Mount Cook region of New Zealands Southern Alps. In Ninth International Conference on Permafrost, Kane DL, Hinkel KM (eds), University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Institute of Northern Engineering: University of Alaska Fairbanks; 3742. Anderson B. 2003. The response of Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere Franz Josef Glacier to climate change. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Canterbury. Barringer JRF, McNeill SJ, Pairman D. 2002. Progress on assessing the accuracy of a high-resolution digital elevation model for New Zealand. In 5th International Symposium on Spatial Accuracy Assessment in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Hunter G, Lowell K (eds) 1012 July, Melbourne, Australia. Department of Geomatics, University of Melbourne, Australia. Bottino G, Chiarle M, Joly A, Mortara G. 2002. Modelling rock avalanches and their relation to permafrost degradation in glacial environments. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 13: 283288. DOI: 10.1002/ ppp.432 Brazier V, Kirkbride MP, Owens IF. 1998. The relationship between climate and rock glacier distribution in the Ben Ohau Range, New Zealand. Geograska Annaler 80(A(34): 193207. Cox SC, Findlay RH. 1995. The Main Divide Fault Zone and its role in formation of the Southern Alps, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics 38: 489499. Cox SC, Allen SK, Ferris BG. 2008. Vampire rock avalanches, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. GNS Science report 2008/10. Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Lower Hutt, New Zealand. Davies MCR, Hamza O, Harris C. 2001. The effect of rise in mean annual temperature on the stability of rock slopes containing ice-lled discontinuities. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 12(1): 6977. DOI: 10.1002/ppp.378
Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp

356 S. K. Allen, S. Gruber and I. F. Owens Dramis F, Govi M, Guglielmin M, Mortara G. 1995. Mountain permafrost and slope instability in the Italian Alps: The Val Pola Landslide. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 6: 7382. ller B, Hoelzle M, Heggem ESF, Isaksen K, Etzelmu hll D, Odegard RS, Haeberli Mittaz C, Vonder Mu W, Sollid JL. 2001. Mapping and modelling the occurrence and distribution of mountain permafrost. Norwegian Journal of Geography 55: 186194. Fu P, Rich PM. 2002. A geometric solar radiation model with applications in agriculture and forestry. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 37(13): 2535. Gruber S, Haeberli W. 2007. Permafrost in steep bedrock slopes and its temperature-related destabilization following climate change. Journal of Geophysical Research 112: DOI: 10.1029/2006JF000547. Gruber S, Peter M, Hoelzle M, Woodhatch I, Haeberli W. 2003. Surface temperatures in steep alpine rock faces a strategy for regional-scale measurement and modelling, Permafrost. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Permafrost, Phillips M, Springman SM, Arenson LU (eds). Swets & Zeitlinger: Zurich; 325330. Gruber S, Hoelzle M, Haeberli W. 2004a. Permafrost thaw and destabilization of Alpine rock walls in the hot summer of 2003. Geophysical Research Letters 31(L13504). Gruber S, Hoelzle M, Haeberli W. 2004b. Rock-wall temperatures in the Alps: modelling their topographic distribution and regional differences. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 15: 299307. DOI: 10.1002/ ppp.501 hll D. 1997. Slope Haeberli W, Wegmann M, Vonder Mu stability problems related to glacier shrinkage and permafrost degradation in the Alps. Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae 90: 407414. Hancox GT, McSaveney MJ, Manville VR, Davies TR. 2005. The October 1999 Mt Adams rock avalanche and subsequent landslide dam-break ood and effects in Poerua River, Westland, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics 48(4): 683 705. Harris C. 2005. Climate change, mountain permafrost degradation and geotechnical hazard. In Global Change and Mountain Regions. An Overview of Current Knowledge, Huber UM, Bugmann HKM, Reasoner MA (eds). Springer: Dordrecht; 215224. hll D. 2001. Permafrost and climate Harris C, Vonder Mu in Europe: climate change, mountain permafrost degradation and geotechnical hazard. In Global Change in Protected Areas, Visconti G, Beniston M, Iannorelli EE, Barba D (eds). Kluwer: Dordrecht; 7182. hll D, Isaksen K, Haeberli W, Sollid Harris C, Vonder Mu JL, King L, Holmlund P, Dramis F, Guglielmin M, Palacios D. 2003. Warming permafrost in European mountains. Global and Planetary Change 39: 215 225. Henderson RD, Thompson SM. 1999. Extreme rainfalls in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Hydrology 38(2): 309330. Hoelzle M, Chinn T, Stumm D, Paul F, Zemp M, Haeberli W. 2007. The application of glacier inventory data for estimating past climate change effects on mountain glaciers: a comparison between the European Alps and the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Global and Planetary Change 56: 6982. Huggel C. 2008. Recent extreme slope failures in glacial environments: effects of thermal perturbation. Quaternary Science Reviews 28(1112): 11191130. DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.06.007. Korup O. 2005. Large landslides and their effect on sediment ux in South Westland, New Zealand. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 30: 305 323. McGowan HA, Sturman AP. 1996. Regional and local scale characteristics of foehn wind events over the South Island of New Zealand. Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics 58: 151164. McSaveney MJ. 2002. Recent rockfalls and rock avalanches in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand. Geology Society of America, Reviews in Engineering Geology XV: 3569. Noetzli J, Gruber S. 2009. Transient thermal effects in Alpine permafrost. The Cryosphere 3: 8599. Noetzli J, Hoelzle M, Haeberli W. 2003. Mountain permafrost and recent Alpine rock-fall events: a GIS-based approach to determine critical factors. In Permafrost, Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Permafrost, Phillips M, Springman SM, Arenson LU (eds). Swets & Zeitlinger: Zurich, Switzerland; pp. 827832. Noetzli J, Gruber S, Kohl T, Salzmann N, Haeberli W. 2007. Three-dimensional distribution and evolution of permafrost temperatures in idealized high-mountain topography. Journal of Geophysical Research 112: DOI: 10.1029/2006JF000545. Rich PM, Dubayah R, Hetrick WA, Saving SC. 1994. Using Viewshed models to calculate intercepted solar radiation: applications in ecology. American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing Technical Papers: 524529. Salinger JM, Basher RE, Fitzharris B, Hay JE, Jones PD, MacVeigh JP, Schmidely-Leleu I. 1995. Climate trends in the South-West Pacic. International Journal of Climatology 15: 285302. Wegmann M, Gudmundsson GH, Haeberli W. 1998. Permafrost changes in rock walls and the retreat of Alpine glaciers: a thermal modelling approach. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 9: 2333. Wells A, Duncan RP, Stewart GH, Yetton MD. 1999. Prehistoric dates of the most recent Alpine Fault earthquakes, New Zealand. Geology 27: 995998.

Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 20: 345356 (2009) DOI: 10.1002/ppp