My current research focusses on rockfalls in alpine catchments. I study the geomorphic processes that shape steep rock walls with the long-term aim of developing and testing geomorphic process laws for rockfall-dominated landscapes. My research centres around the design and building of rockfall observatories to obtain high-quality field data. After analysis the data, the results are put into a wider theoretical context in oder to use them in landscape evolution models.
My interest in bedrock landscapes developed during my geology studies at TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany, and my PhD at the University of Bristol, UK, where I combined numerical simulations and geological field observations to shed light on the emplacement of granites in the Californian Sierra Nevada and the European Alps. Questions I want to answer include how steep bedrock slopes evolve with time by rockfalls, landslides and other mass movements, how these rock slope failures are controlled by rock properties, geological setting, climate and weathering, and how hazards produced by rock slope failures can be anticipated and their impact on infrastructure and human life reduced.
Environmental Seismology - Using seismic methods to study Earth surface processes
I investigate rockfalls, landslides and other mass movements with the data of seismic networks, a method called Environmental Seismology. With seismometers, one can observe a multitude of processes acting on the Earth's surface and their interactions throughout the entire landscape, as well as their meteorological drivers, with the same instrument network at high temporal resolution, usually at >100 Hz. With the use of seismic techniques, we can collect near-complete catalogues of events and record their distributions in time and space. This allows to study the interaction pf process domains, cause and response, and lead and lag times with unprecedented detail in applications that were not possible before.
I am working on one of the big geoscientific challenges of environmental seismology, being to relate the complex seismic data to distinct geomorphic processes. To address this question, I started to explore machine learning techniques that could help to detect and classify signals of geomorphic activity patterns in the seismic data stream.
In the article "Vom Flüstern, Raunen und Grollen der Landschaft - Seismische Methoden in der Geomorphology" (in German, English abstract) published in the GFZ Journal "System Erde" - "System Earth", colleagues and me illustrated the potential of seismic observations of Earth surface processes.
In a recent study, I investigated the Askja caldera July 2014 landslide, its precursor, motion and aftermath, through the analysis of seismic data.
Rockfall observatory in the Reintal, Wetterstein Massif, German Alps
I am the responsible scientist of the rockfall observatory of the Geomorphology section. The observatory is located in the Reintal, an Alpine Valley in the Wetterstein Massif, close to the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain. Due to the variety of active geomorphic processes, including rockfalls off the steep limestone cliffs, debris flows, and snow avalanches, and the river Partnach, the Reintal has been the field area of many geomorphological and hydrological research campaigns over the last few decades.
Starting in 2014, I was leading members of the Geomorphology section to install a monitoring network in the Reintal, including six seismic stations, two weather stations, and optical and infrared cameras to detect and classify rockfalls. The main focus of the monitoring campaign is on the about 1,500 m high north face of the Hochwanner mountain with its prominent rockfall niche. This cliff experienced the detachment of a 2.8 Mio m3 rockfall about 500 years ago that created the so-called Steingerümpel (German for rock debris deposit) and damned the river Partnach. The cliff still shows high rockfall activity, and an 80,000 m3 block can be expected to fall in the near future.
I have published a Reintal project description (in German) on the website of the German Alpine Club, Deutscher Alpenverein, and the GFZ calendar of 2017 shows a fantastic image of the site on the October page.
I am a member of the organising committee for the international conference "EnviroSeis - Advancing Environmental Seismology", which took place from 6-9 June 2017 in Ohlstadt, Germany. We are delighted that we were able to win the European Geosciences Union as a host institution.
The conference provided a starting point to create community structure in this highly interdisciplinary research field as no platform currently exists for the scientists who use environmental seismology to exchange ideas. We defined shared approaches and discussed light-house examples of geomorphic applications of this highly potential technique.
For detailed information, impressions of the meeting, and follow ups see the website of the conference:
EGU 2018 session "Environmental Seismology: Deciphering Earth's surface processes with seismic methods"
I am the main convener of this exciting session that aims at bringing together scientists who use seismic methods to study Earth surface dynamics. The co-conveners and me invite contributions from the field of geomorphology, cryospheric sciences, seismology, natural hazards, volcanology, soil system sciences and hydrology. Theoretical, field based and experimental approaches are highly welcome.
More details about the session can be found here:
A. Schöpa, W.-A. Chao, B. Lipovsky, N. Hovius, R.S. White, R.G. Green and J.M. Turowski, 2017, Dynamics of the Askja caldera July 2014 landslide, Iceland, from seismic signal analysis: precursor, motion and aftermath, Earth Surface Dynamics Discussion, https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2017-68.
A. Schöpa, C. Annen, J.H. Dilles, R.S.J. Sparks and J.D. Blundy, 2017, Formation of the Yerington batholith, Nevada – insights from thermal modelling, Economic Geology 112(7), p. 1653–1672, doi: 10.5382/econgeo.2017.4525, plus cover image of the issue.
D. Müller, T.R. Walter, A. Schöpa, T. Witt, B. Steinke, M.T. Gudmundsson and T. Düring, 2017, High resolution digital elevation modelling from TLS and UAV campaign reveals structural complexity at the 2014/15 Holuhraun eruption site, Iceland, Frontiers in Earth Science 5(59), doi: 10.3389/feart.2017.00059.
J.M. Turowski, M. Dietze, A. Schöpa, A. Burtin and N. Hovius, 2016, Vom Flüstern, Raunen und Grollen der Landschaft: Seismische Methoden in der Geomorphologie, System Erde 6(1), p. 56–61, doi: 10.2312/GFZ.syserde.06.01.9.
A. Schöpa, D. Floess, M. de Saint Blanquat, C. Annen and P. Launeau, 2015, The relation between magnetite and silicate fabric in granitoids of the Adamello Batholith, Tectonophysics 642, p. 1–15, doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2014.11.022.
A. Schöpa and C. Annen, 2013, The effects of magma flux variations on the formation and lifetime of large silicic magma chambers, Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth 118, p. 926–942, doi:10.1002/jgrb.50127.
A. Schöpa, M. Pantaleo and T.R. Walter, 2011, Scale-dependent location of hydrothermal vents: Stress field models and infrared field observations on the Fossa Cone, Vulcano Island, Italy, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 203, p. 133–145, doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2011.03.008.