Debris-flow events often comprise a sequence of surges, sometimes termed “roll waves.” The reason for this surging behavior is still a matter of debate. Explanations include the growth of hydraulic instabilities, periodic sediment deposition and release, or grain size sorting. High-resolution field measurements together with triggering rainfall characteristics are rare. We present results for 3 years of monitoring debris-flow events at Lattenbach Creek in the western part of Austria. The monitoring system includes a weather station in the headwaters of the creek, radar sensors for measuring flow depth at different locations along the channel, as well as a two-dimensional rotational laser sensor installed over a fixed cross section that yields a three-dimensional surface model of the passing debris-flow event. We find that the debris flows at Lattenbach Creek were all triggered by rainstorms of less than 2 hours and exhibited surges for each observed event. The velocities of the surges were up to twice as high as the front velocity. Often, the first surges that included boulders and woody debris had the highest flow depth and discharge and showed an irregular geometry. The shape of the surges in the second half of the flow, which carried smaller grain sizes and less woody debris, were rather regular and showed a striking geometric similarity, but still high velocities. The results of our monitoring efforts aim to improve our understanding of the surging behavior of debris flows and provide data for model testing for the scientific community.

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