Observations of the atmospheric electric field preceding intense rainfall events in the Dolomite Alps near Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy

  • Martino BernardEmail author
  • S. Jeffrey Underwood
  • Matteo Berti
  • Alessandro Simoni
  • Carlo Gregoretti
Original Paper


Debris flow events, generated by surface runoff, occur with great frequency in the Dolomites (Northeastern Italian Alps) during the summer season. Summer thunderstorms, which are common in the region, can quickly generate runoff at the base of rocky cliffs, which then entrains and propagates downstream the underlying unconsolidated material. In the past, the main atmospheric feature considered in evaluating the initiation of debris flow events was rainfall. Observations led to the development of rainfall intensity–duration thresholds for sediment mobilization, which compared incoming severe rainfalls with the potential for triggering debris flows. This study works toward the examination of another characteristic of the atmosphere, the atmospheric electric field. In particular, the behavior of the electric field prior to convective rainfall is investigated as an indicator of rainfall intensities capable of triggering debris flows, in a basin near Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy). Results suggest that prior to bursts of intense rainfall, the electric field derivative frequency distribution exhibits a recurrent pattern roughly half the time. When it occurs, the amplitude of derivative frequency distribution intersects the zero axis twice before rainfall reaches maximum intensity. A regression model is designed which considers the amplitude maximum and the difference in time between the crossings of the zero axis. The validation of this model suggests a mild relationship between electric field and rainfall intensity in an alpine environment.



This work was supported by the following projects: GIS-based integrated platform for Debris Flow Monitoring and Modeling and Hazard Mitigation (GAPDEMM), funded by CARIPARO foundation; Study of new early warning systems for hydrogeological hazards and their social perception in a highly vulnerable area was funded by the University of Padova (CPDA119318); PRIN 2012–2014 Forecasting mass movements phenomena with high risk level in in a changing climate, funded by Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research. The authors wish to thank the association ‘Regole d’Ampezzo, which gave the permission for installing the experimental facility. Finally, the authors thank Giacomo Crucil, Gianpietro De Vido, Martina Morandi, and Alessandro Pimazzoni for their help in the field and Nicola Romanato for his help in the data analysis. Data are available under request to the corresponding author.

Supplementary material

703_2019_677_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.5 mb)
Supplementary file1 (DOCX 3585 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Land Environment Agriculture and ForestryUniversity of PadovaPaduaItaly
  2. 2.Office of Research, Scholarship, and Creative ActivitiesCalifornia State University, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological Geological and Environmental ScienceUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly

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