University of Innsbruck

Scope and aims of the Innsbruck Doctoral College "Natural Hazards in Mountain Regions"

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Since the beginning of humankind and with a continuous increase of experience and scientific knowledge, humans try to cope with natural hazards and mitigate their impacts. Unlike technological or human-made hazards, natural hazards are naturally occurring physical phenomena, threatening human lives and infrastructure. Facing the environmental conditions in mountain regions, different forms of geophysical natural hazards occur. They are classified in geological and meteorological (hydrological) processes.

The Innsbruck Doctoral College (IDC) focuses on all relevant natural scientific, engineering, demographic, economic and management aspects in the context of analysing geophysical natural hazards in mountain regions as well as handling risks and developing solutions for protection. As natural hazards in mountain regions cover biological, geographical, geological, geotechnical, hydraulic, hydrological, meteorological, and socio-economic issues, an interdisciplinary research approach for the hazards assessment, modelling, etc. is essential. The IDC focuses on, both, more general pressing questions as well as on research challenges. Thinking and acting in interdisciplinary cross-boundary domains, where knowledge and expertise are transferred over boundaries between classical natural and engineering science as well as between natural and social science disciplines, is of basic relevance.

The IDC aims to provide systematic, efficient and high-quality training of excellent PhD students within an interdisciplinary research environment. PhD students are pushed to extend their research interests, recognize and develop correlations and interfaces with other research disciplines and foci, and present their research in a broader context. Activities cover academic topics as well as the training of soft skills and career planning. The IDC is further aimed to be a fruitful platform for the members to discuss, propose and work on common interdisciplinary research issues and thereby also cooperate with external national and international research institutions.

Current focus areas - pressing gaps and research questions




Dating of mass movements and rock scarps,

assessment of frequencies and magnitudes of natural hazards

  • How often does a natural hazard event (e.g. earthquake, rock slide) of a given magnitude and intensity occur?
  • What are critical pre-conditioning factors and/or triggering mechanisms of natural hazards (and on what time scales from seconds to millions of years are they relevant)?
  • What are the consequences of hazardous earth system processes impacting mountain regions (e.g. earthquake-triggered large-scale gravitational mass-movements, mass-movement-triggered tsunamis in alpine lakes, natural hazard impacts on environmental system evolution, human settlements or trading route history)?

 Analysis and modelling of slow and rapid mass movements

  • How to capture the transition from slow (stable) to rapid (unstable) slope deformation?
  • What are the driving parameters for a slope failure and how to model / predict failure processes?
  • How to develop a material model, which allows for the analysis of all types of slope deformation and mass movement (stable slopes, slow and rapid movement)?
  • How to physically model entrainment processes and the interaction of the mass movement with water?

Quantification of the destructive reach of snow avalanches

  • Is there any evidence from a practical, full-scale measurement, modelling and socio-economic point of view to improve available snow avalanche simulation models in terms of granular fluid transition or to introduce a new model (component) for avalanches beyond the dense flow regime (bDFA) to simulate extreme events and deliver information for hazard zone mapping?
  • How to set long-term, real-scale monitoring to provide essential physical data for the further development of available simulation models or the introduction of a bDFA-model (component)?
  • How is the general model development characterized to fulfil the requirements coming from practice and full-scale measurements?
  • Which socio-economic effects are expected from snow avalanche model development with particular consideration of transdisciplinary approaches?

Modelling of triggering and resulting fluviatile processes, resulting interactions with settlement areas and the effects of counteracting technical protection measures

  • Which processes (parameters) are mainly relevant for bed-load transport in mountain rivers and its interaction with channel bed morphology? In this context, which opportunities for modelling and process analysis are provided by the availability of high-resolution survey data of the river bathymetry?
  • What are the impacts of fluviatile hazard processes on buildings and, in this context, is it feasible to provide a fully physics-based model approach for vulnerability assessment of buildings against torrential hazards? How do relevant process parameters and the structure of impacted settlement areas influence damage patterns?
  • How to further improve the efficacy of conventional structural protection measures against fluviatile torrential hazards?
  • What are the triggering parameters of flash floods? How can these processes be implemented in hydrodynamic numerical models?

Holistic risk assessment for urban water infrastructure and transport systems, interactions with natural hazards and identification of sustainable adaptation measures

  • What is the exposure of urban water infrastructure to natural hazards?
  • What are the causally linked error chains in cascading events, how can these be triggered and quantified?
  • How do man-made urban hazards (pluvial flooding) interact with the natural hazards (e.g. surcharge of outfalls or coincidence of high flow peaks)?
  • How can existing urban water infrastructure be adapted to improve resilience and reduce exposure to hazards?
  • How can the anthropogenic influence of urban areas be reduced?
  • Which effects do natural hazards have on transport systems for everyday mobility and on the accessibility of and in mountain regions?

Student board, admission of new PhD students

All PhD students of the IDC are members of the student board, which meets at least twice a year (once together with the scientist board). The purpose of the student board is to discuss ideas for future IDC events and suggestions for possible improvements of the education and research program and forwards them to the scientist board.

Applicants have to be enrolled and registered at the University of Innsbruck or a university cooperating in the frame of the IDC program. The main PhD supervisor and one co-supervisor are members of the IDC and must have different research foci. To apply for the IDC, an expression of interest in the form of an exposé (contents, time, and finance plans) on the planned thesis topic has to be submitted to the executive board of the IDC by the main supervisor. If the executive board of the IDC has no concerns about the feasibility of the PhD project, the executive board of the IDC invites the PhD students to present their PhD concept and motivation for joining the IDC in the frame of an “application-colloquium” (can be an independent event or part of another IDC event) offered by the IDC at least twice a year in case of pending applications. The final admission is decided by the executive board of the IDC.

Scientist board, admission of new board members

The scientist board consists of all senior researchers involved in the IDC. Each habilitated member acts as main or co-supervisor for at least one PhD student of the IDC, all other members are actively involved in the support of at least one PhD student. All scientist board members regularly contribute to and participate in IDC activities. The scientist board decides on main issues concerning strategy, development, and execution of the IDC. It decides on changes in IDC statutes (confirmation of the rectorate and the ARMU IDC board provided). It also decides on the admission and exclusion of scientist board members as well as exclusion of PhD students.

New scientist board members are expected to be highly qualified scientists who complement the scientific program of the IDC. They submit an informal application to the executive board of the IDC to be discussed and approved by the scientist board.

Executive board

The executive board of the IDC is formed by the speaker, the deputy speaker, and the representing student. The purpose of the executive board is to lead the IDC day-to-day business, the admission of new PhD students, the approval of PhD thesis supervision according to the criteria of the statutes, and the utilization of IDC budget. The executive board takes into account the suggestions of the scientist board and the student board for possible improvements concerning the education and research program and suggests changes to the statutes.


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