Massive Rockfall Peels Off Mountain Face Leaving People In Awe

Published May 24, 2018 901 Plays $1.33 earned

Rumble / Natural PhenomenaRalf Dujmovits, Salomé von Rotz and Nancy Hansen were climbing the Cassin Route on Piz Badile in Switzerland's Bergell Range when they captured this incredible moment. The unstable north wall of neighboring peak Piz Cengalo was spitting large blocks of rock all morning. In early afternoon, the mountain let go of a huge amount of granite, as seen in this video. But they knew it still wasn't the big event the Swiss geologists and engineers were expecting - that happened two days later. An estimated four million cubic meters of rock came down, causing several deaths, chaos and evacuations of huts and villages.

Blocks of rock as big as an apartment building suddenly peel off the mountain face. As the cascade of rock tears down the mountain, it throws a serpentine cloud of dust into the air. And it falls with a loud thud, the sound can be compared to serac falls and avalanches. This rockfall resonates so much throughout the mountain that we can only assume how destructive it has been.

Rockfalls are fascinating, powerful, complicated, and dangerous, so learning something about them can be useful. There are many causes that make up a smaller portion of rockfalls, including earthquakes, snowmelt, freeze-thaw cycles, and lightning. Still, for 26 percent of falls documented, the geologists can’t identify a cause (although the current thinking is that heat may be at work for some of these).

It might be possible to predict rockfalls someday, but not for a long time. In the meantime, it is believed that a promising route is to look at thermal maps of rock faces. Warm air can surround both sides of a detached flake and heat it up faster than the rest of the cliff. These hot areas on the cliff could be the most likely to rip off next.