Analysis of the effect of trees on block propagation using a DEM model: implications for rockfall modelling

D. Toe, F. Berger, F. Bourrier, I. Olmedo, J. Monnet
impact, Rockfall, Sensitivity analysis, tree

The objective of this research was to use numerical models based on mechanical approaches to improve the integration of the protective role of forests against rockfall into block propagation models.

A model based on the discrete element method (DEM) was developed to take into account the complex mechanical processes involved during the impact of a block on a tree. This modelling approach requires the definition of many input parameters and cannot be directly integrated into block propagation models. A global sensitivity analysis identified the leading parameters of the block kinematics after impact (i.e. block energy reduction, trajectory changes, and rotational velocity): the impact velocity, the tree diameter, and the impact point horizontal location (i.e. eccentricity).

Comparisons with the previous experimental and numerical studies of block impacts on trees demonstrated the applicability of the DEM model and showed some of the limitations of earlier approaches. Our sensitivity analysis highlights the significant influence of the impact velocity on the reduction of the block’s kinetic energy. Previous approaches usually also focus on parameters such as impact height, impact vertical incidence, and tree species, whose importance is only minor according to the present results. This suggests that the integration of forest effects into block propagation models could be both improved and simplified.

The DEM model can also be used as an alternative to classical approaches for the integration of forest effects by directly coupling it with block propagation models. This direct coupling only requires the additional definition of the location and the diameter of each tree. Indeed, the input parameters related to the mechanical properties of the stem and the block/stem interaction in the DEM model can be set to average values because they are not leading parameters. The other input parameters are already defined or calculated in the block propagation model.

Keywords: tree, impact, sensitivity analysis, rockfall.

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