A large landslide (frozen debris avalanche) occurred at Assapaat on the south coast of the Nuussuaq Peninsula in Central West Greenland on June 13, 2021, at 04:04 local time. We present a compilation of available data from field observations, photos, remote sensing, and seismic monitoring to describe the event. Analysis of these data in combination with an analysis of pre- and post-failure digital elevation models results in the first description of this type of landslide. The frozen debris avalanche initiated as a 6.9 * 106 m3 failure of permafrozen talus slope and underlying colluvium and till at 600–880 m elevation. It entrained a large volume of permafrozen colluvium along its 2.4 km path in two subsequent entrainment phases accumulating a total volume between 18.3 * 106 and 25.9 * 106 m3. About 3.9 * 106 m3 is estimated to have entered the Vaigat strait; however, no tsunami was reported, or is evident in the field. This is probably because the second stage of entrainment along with a flattening of slope angle reduced the mobility of the frozen debris avalanche. We hypothesise that the initial talus slope failure is dynamically conditioned by warming of the ice matrix that binds the permafrozen talus slope. When the slope ice temperature rises to a critical level, its shear resistance is reduced, resulting in an unstable talus slope prone to failure. Likewise, we attribute the large-scale entrainment to increasing slope temperature and take the frozen debris avalanche as a strong sign that the permafrost in this region is increasingly at a critical state. Global warming is enhanced in the Arctic and frequent landslide events in the past decade in Western Greenland let us hypothesise that continued warming will lead to an increase in the frequency and magnitude of these types of landslides. Essential data for critical arctic slopes such as precipitation, snowmelt, and ground and surface temperature are still missing to further test this hypothesis. It is thus strongly required that research funds are made available to better predict the change of landslide threat in the Arctic.
- Assapaat landslide
- Global warming
- Slope temperature
- Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate