This study reports on a tree-ring-based reconstruction of geomorphic activity and illustrates impacts of such processes on tree germination along a debris-flow torrent in the Swiss Alps. Analysis included the identification of growth disturbances and the assessment of germination dates for 28 trees along the channel of the Geisstriftbach torrent (Valais, Swiss Alps). Provided that recolonizing trees indicate the minimum time elapsed since the last deposition, germination dates suggest that a devastating debris-flow event in the 1880s had cleared the surface and scoured the currently active channel. This interpretation is supported by two topographic maps showing a dislocation of the channel. Analyzing the age structure of trees along the channel in more detail, we observe higher tree ages with increasing distance from the cone apex. In addition, dendrogeomorphic methods allowed for the reconstruction of 13 debris-flow events between AD 1913 and 2006. In combination with geomorphic mapping, the spatial distribution of trees affected by individual events was assessed and a minimum frequency of previous debris-flow events reconstructed. Although the present study was based on a limited set of tree-ring records, it illustrates that tree-ring analysis in combination with cartographic methods holds much promise for dating minimum ages of surfaces cleared by destructive events as well as for determining the spatio-temporal impacts of past debris-flow activity. © 2010 Istituto Italiano di Dendrocronologia.
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