The global increase in atmospheric temperature may be accelerating the physical breakdown of landscape and infrastructure. Rock expands when heated, and combined with other stresses in the landscape associated with topography and regional tectonic history, can potentially trigger the formation of large rockfalls. Recently, large bedrock outcrops in California and Finland hosted dramatic fracturing events in the midst of the hottest summer on record (incl. video), while at another location, new fractures have loosened a large slab of rock near the buttress of the Glen Canyon Dam, a massive concrete arch dam on the Colorado River in Arizona that provides electricity for 5.8 million people in the southwestern US. Could the unprecedented summer temperatures at these locations be the trigger for sudden fracture events, or are they just a product of longer-term reductions in fracture strength?
In this project we will develop on-site sensors to allow us to measure current conditions, model these events, and hopefully forecast future occurrences. Due to the seasonal nature of these processes, the sensors must stay in place for a very long time — up to several years, to deliver a minimum base of data. With current technology, highly accurate sensors, miniaturized computers and wireless communications, we are able to provide an infrastructure to collect these data.
The goal of this project is to develop and implement an infrastructure for environmental monitoring. The infrastructure comprises on-site components including the sensors for data collection, and off-site components for persisting the data and further processing. The project will be jointly carried out with the department of Earth sciences, i.e. the system will be used in an actual deployment.