Monitoring rockfall risk, a high-altitude challenge

Can a rockfall be prevented? Well, in a way, yes, it is possible. Especially in areas prone to this type of mass movements.

And in Arantec we have gone to the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park to demonstrate how technology can be an essential factor in this task.

A geological and human challenge at the height of Arantec

Castellfollit de la Roca rests on a basaltic cliff about 40 m high and 1 km long, forming a scenario that each year attracts thousands of people who come to visit this spectacular geological formation of the Natural Park of Garrotxa (Girona).

Source: Generalitat de Catalunya. Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda Department

But this marvel originated from two superimposed lava flows hides a latent danger: rock falls.

These natural phenomena can represent a significant risk, endangering human lives and generating considerable material damage. In fact, as Manuel Jesús Royán Cordero recalls in his doctoral thesis, “rock falls are the most frequent and dangerous slope movement in mountain areas”.

How can you tell if a rockslide is going to occur?

First, it is necessary to identify risk areas through susceptibility analysis, monitoring, characterization and measurement techniques.

In the case of Castellfollit, for example, 6 movements of great magnitude have been observed in the last 50 years.

Although it is possible to delimit the most problematic areas, there is no way to accurately predict the occurrence of a landslide. Nevertheless, some indicators may offer clues as to the imminence of the phenomenon.

The main precursors to pay attention to are:

  • Changes in rock stability.
  • Surface deformations.
  • Presence of cracks or fissures.
  • Falling fragments.

In this monitoring task, devices such as physurometers or inclinometers play an important role.

Arantec’s monitoring efforts

For the Castellfollit project, we had to holster a team of seasoned climbers armed with the most advanced monitoring technology.

The work carried out is part of the Integral Conservation Plan for the Cinglera of Castellfollit de la Roca (cinglera is the Catalan name for this characteristic type of rock formation) that the Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya (ICGC) has been developing for years.

The rockfall risk monitoring activity carried out by Arantec consisted of the supply, installation and commissioning of:

  • 8 piston crack testers;
  • 1 cable crack tester;
  • 2 thermistor;
  • 5 wireless inclinometers;
  • 3 wireless dataloggers, and
  • 1 gateway

for real-time data collection in a priority surveillance area where a large fissure about 50 cm wide and 17 m of vertical continuity has been discovered.

The attached images and video attest to the complexity of the operation and the risks involved in installing the devices.

Obviously, we had to observe all the security measures in place. But the experience and professionalism of our team ensured that the work was carried out smoothly.

Video: ©Arantec

The value of technology in rockfall risk reduction

Although fundamental, the deployment of technological devices such as those offered by Arantec is only one piece of the puzzle.

Once the necessary information has been collected through monitoring, it is vital to implement measures to reduce the risk of rockfall. These measures may include, for example, the implementation of containment netting and protective structures. In addition, it is also important to focus on education and public awareness, promoting safe behaviors and preparing people for emergency situations.

The ultimate goal is ultimately to build resilient communities. Continuous monitoring and updating of the technologies used, collaboration between the different agents (administration, companies such as Arantec, academic institutions, local communities, etc.) and training and strengthening of public awareness are key to achieving this objective.

Rock falls can be a powerful reminder of the fragility of human life in the face of the forces of nature.

But at Arantec we have built a watchtower based on the most innovative technology from which we help you monitor potential risks by providing you with the monitoring solutions you need.

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