Seven centuries of avalanche activity at Echalp (Queyras massif, southern French Alps) as inferred from tree rings
The purpose of this study was to reconstruct spatiotemporal patterns of avalanche events in a forested avalanche path of the Queyras massif (Echalp avalanche path, southeast French Alps). Analysis of past events was based on tree-ring series from 163 heavily affected multicentennial larch trees ( Larix decidua Mill.) growing near or next to the avalanche path. A total of 514 growth disturbances, such as tangential rows of traumatic resin ducts, the onset of compression wood as well as abrupt growth suppression or release, were identified in the samples indicating 38 destructive snow avalanches between 1338 and 2010. The mean return period of snow avalanches was 22 years with a 4% probability that an avalanche occurs in a particular year. On a temporal plan, three maxima in snow avalanche frequency were reconstructed at the beginning of the 16th and 19th centuries and around 1850, correlating with below-average winter temperatures and glacier advances. Analysis of the spatial distribution of disturbed trees contributed to the determination of four preferential patterns of avalanche events. The comparison of dendrogeomorphic data with historical records demonstrate that at least 18 events – six of which were undocumented – reached the hamlet of Echalp during the last seven centuries, but no significant temporal trend was detected concerning the frequency of these extreme events.