Engineering geomorphology of rock glaciers Academic Article uri icon


  • A partnership between geomorphology and engineering is facilitating human development in this harsh environment. Rock glaciers provide locations for urban water sources, construction borrow sources, drill sites, shaft and tunnel portals, ski tower supports, and dam abutments. Rock glaciers, as dynamic landforms, necessitate proper identification in the field. Placing structures on, in, or adjacent to rock glaciers requires an appreciation and understanding of their temporal stability. Internal and surface characteristics provide important clues to the development and deformation of rock glaciers. Rock glaciers play a significant role in the alpine debris transport system. Active movement and mass wasting are perhaps the most obvious geologic hazards affecting engineered works. The structure of the rock glacier is conducive to the production of a steady, continuous supply of meltwater during summer months. Thus, rock glaciers serve as alpine aquifers. Consideration of rock glaciers as potential aquifer sources requires caution because of the long-term impact of climate change on the temporal nature of the landform. From the rock glaciers that we have monitored for water quality characteristics, it appears that they provide quality potable water. This paper provides a foundation for appreciation and understanding of rock glaciers from an engineering geomorphologic point of view. The approach taken in this paper provides practical, important information to aid the engineer and engineering geologist in prudent evaluations of rock glaciers as potential sites for human development and uses. The bottom line of our paper is: rock glaciers must be avoided for essentially all structures. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Burger, K. C., Degenhardt, J. J., & Giardino, J. R.

citation count

  • 79

complete list of authors

  • Burger, KC||Degenhardt, JJ||Giardino, JR

publication date

  • December 1999