Mass movements, avalanches and earthquakes

Mass movements are characterized by the gravitational downward movement of solid and / or loose rock. According to international and national approaches, mass movements are classified on the basis of kinematics (movement mechanism), material composition, activity and rate of movement. A large number of methods are available to analyze, observe and monitor mass movements and, in many cases, to take protective measures. Gravitational mass movements can be triggered by a wide variety of factors, with earthquakes also acting as potential triggers in seismically active areas.

Regardless of this, earthquakes represent a significant natural hazard from a global perspective, which is characterized by large spatial dimensions and high potential for destruction. Dealing with earthquakes requires well-founded models and earthquake zoning, hazard and risk assessments, as well as structural engineering measures. In this context, the knowledge gained from past earthquakes and their effects on society is fundamental in order to assess and ultimately reduce the risk.

Due to the special material behavior of snow, avalanches are treated and researched separately from mass movements in science and practice, but in alpine areas they represent a major challenge for the protection of settlement areas, traffic routes and infrastructure.   Understanding and assessing gravitational mass movements, earthquakes and avalanches requires interdisciplinary approaches based on networking and partnership between different scientific disciplines. This interdisciplinary research aims to identify those socio-economic and institutional elements that require particular attention in disaster risk management.


Univ.Prof. Mag.rer.nat.
Christian Zangerl

Institut für Angewandte Geologie
Universität für Bodenkultur Wien


Marc Ostermann

Marc Ostermann

Hauptabteilung Angewandte Geowissenschaften
Geologischen Bundesanstalt