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Lichenometric measurements using Rhizocarpon ssp. were carried out on 20 talus slopes in the cirques of the Finstertal valley (Austria) at an elevation of 2300–3000 m a.s.l. The aim was to assess activity patterns on selected slopes and between the slopes of the study area, to find evidence of rockfall pulses in the last centuries and to calculate rockwall retreat rates. A calibration curve was derived from five sites of known age and adapted to the prevailing size of talus boulders. We measured the five largest lichens on more than 300 boulders and the percentage coverage of Rhizocarpon-free clasts on more than 1000 test fields.

Most of the investigated talus cones are characterized by moderate rockfall supply, with the apex being more active than the talus foot and moderate redistribution by avalanche and debris flows. Considerably enhanced activity was found under rockwalls influenced by permafrost, particularly on the north faces at an elevation of >2600 m a.s.l. At currently moderately active sites, boulder falls seem to have been slightly more frequent in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. In positions where permafrost is expected in the rockwalls, a weak maximum in the late nineteenth century and highly active present-day conditions were found, the latter being assigned to current permafrost melt. Rockwall retreat rates derived from lichen coverage are between 400 and 1500 mm/ka which is in good concurrence with talus volume assessments, but higher than the rates derived from direct rockfall measurements. The rates derived from lichen coverage have to be taken with caution as the effects of debris redistribution are hard to quantify.
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Keywords: lichenometry; permafrost; rockfall; talus

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Geography, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Publication date: 2010-09-01

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