1. Research focus

Impact loading of foundations of a rockfall protection net

Rockfall barriers are a good measure to protect settlement areas. Various manufacturers offer such rockfall barriers as system solutions. These systems are tested with standardized tests for successful CE certification. However, the design and dimensioning of the foundation is not part of the authorization and must be carried out depending on the properties of the soil and the applicable standards (eurocodes). Micropiles are often used as the foundation of a rockfall barrier, which are suddenly impact loaded in the rockfall event. This fact is being investigated in the course of a research project at the unit of geotechnical engineering at the University of Innsbruck. For this purpose, a 12 m high frame was constructed on which a 1000 kg or 2850 kg weight was mounted. With the help of the pendulum, impact loads on micropiles and post foundations are verified. In the past few years, over 65 post foundations and 50 individual micropiles have been shock loaded in this way.


Design of protection structures against debris flows and rock avalanches

Natural hazards such as floods, gravity driven transport of solid matter, debris flows and rock avalanches or rock falls are often encountered hazards in Alpine region. Protective structures can either prevent their trigger or protect settlements and lifelines by distracting or stopping such movements. This requires the absorption of high energies by a protective structure.

A protective structure is first loaded by a dynamic force. After the impact, a static load acts upon the protective structure. One of our research focuses is the determination of the dynamic and static loads on protective structures, as well as the prediction of the run-out areas of mass movements. To this end, model tests are carried out and then compared with numerical predictions. Material and geometry variations of the impact on rigid and flexible barriers are investigated in various experimental settings. The measured pressures, flow heights and flow velocities are used to verify existing design approaches. The results of the model tests can also verify the existing design approaches specified in national and international codes for the design of protective structures. Gravitational mass movements are extraordinary natural phenomena, whose frequency increase with global warming. The course of a mass movement is examined by means of a model experiment.

researchers involved: R. HofmannS. Berger

research center: Alpiner Raum, Geotechnik und Naturgefahren


Ermittlung Schutzbauwerke Massenbewegungen

Protection structures against rock fall

The foundation of rockfall and avalanche protection structures are normally provided by micropiles loaded in tension and compression. The bearing capacity (ULS ultimate limit state) of a micropile is normally taken from empirical values or from static load tests (field tension tests). Tension tests on micropiles are currently regulated in the standards ONR 24806 (Permanent technical avalanche protection - Design of structures) and in ONR 24810 Technical protection against rockfall - Terms and definitions, effects of actions, design, monitoring and maintenance). In Austria, the basic principles for the behaviour and design of micropiles for control structures against rock fall, torrents and avalanches are based on experience with static loading from structural engineering.

Our research intends to provide a recommendation for the modification of the usual safety level in structural engineering (partial safety factors on the resistance side) for the anchoring of rockfall control nets with micropiles. A detailed knowledge of impact loading on piles from field tests is still lacking.

A further objective of the research project is to survey international experience, damage analysis and the state of the technology in foundations. Field tests (in soil) will be carried out with micropiles of various lengths, with static and impact loading. Selected structural elements will be instrumented. From the behaviour of the micropiles under impact loading, the formulae for the limit state of bearing capacity (ULS) can be adapted. The difference between solid bar systems and hollow bar systems will be investigated from the impact loading carried out in the field.  This would make an optimisation of the test procedure in difficult terrain conceivable. Based on the field tests (in soil) and the research work, recommendations will be worked out for the regulations in the standards applicable to the planning, structural design and testing of micropiles.

researchers involved: R. Hofmann, A. Steinwender

research center: Alpiner Raum, Geotechnik und Naturgefahren


Erosionsproblematik im Dammbau



Rockfall simulations

A further research project at the Unit of Geotechnical and Tunnel Engineering refers to  rockfall simulations. In cooperation with the WLV (torrent and avalanche control authority) sensitivity analyses are carried out using usual software. The analysis is carried out with different masses or different numbers of elements (stones). Furthermore, the influence of rock shape, angle of impact, rock orientation and slope material properties is examined. The results can then be used for future calculations and investigations in practice.



Actions on torrential barriers

Torrential barriers protect steep alpine valleys from further erosion. We investigate the water pressure acting upon such retaining walls. Evaluation of damages and field investigations show that the retained earth material is in many cases not water-saturated. Consequently, a full water pressure needs not to be taken into account in the static design. The related ambiguity is also mirrored in the various design recommendations. The field observations can be explained by the setup of the retained earth but also from a consideration of the distribution of energy head. We propose an empirical assign of the loads acting upon torrential barriers which takes into account the probability of the several loads and exposures.



New Erosion Testing System

Erosion in the subsoil occurs particularly in dam constructions and seriously affects their stability. In connection with insufficient sealing seepage may set on and   cause a grain rearrangement and subsequent piping, which may lead to catastrophes. In the laboratory, a new test facility is used to examine the erosion stability of various soils. The testing system has been designed to investigate erosion of soil under triaxial compression.  The basis of the apparatus are two fully automatic universal testing machines with load and displacement control. The large test frame with an axial load of up to 250 kN offers the possibility to install specimens with up to Ø 300 mm, the smaller test frame with up to 60 kN is suitable for specimen diameters up to Ø 150 mm. One cell is equipped with a measuring technology for recording moisture and runtime measurements (wave propagation) by an ultrasonic system. Additionally, the deformation can be measured. A second innovative test cell is used to validate the test results by computer tomography, which is made possible by the newly developed x-ray transparency of the test cell and measurements under stress conditions. Normal stresses, pore pressures and hydraulic gradients can be applied to both test cells. Pressure-resistant storage tanks up to 500 l are provided for permeability measurements. A pressure-resistant measuring system is integrated to record the eroded material and determine the grain size. The apparatus is equipped with an automatic pressure control system to generate the cell or pore pressures as well as the hydraulic gradients. All system modules as well as all test procedures are controlled fully automatically via the control and data acquisition software GEOSYS.


Geotechnical-engineering-biological embankment laboratory = digital slope

Road embankments are subject to considerable damage, especially after rainfall events. The high rehabilitation costs are related to the road drainage, the amount of rainwater, the interlocking of the topsoil layer with the embankment material, the embankment slope, the water retention capacity (of the humus layer and the embankment material), the maintenance, the planting, etc. In this context, the biodegradability of natural fibre products for erosion control is of crucial importance. In order to reduce the damage on motorways, protection against water erosion by greening as well as surface protection depending on the dam construction, slope inclination and exposures will be dealt with in more detail in a research project, in the course of which the first geotechnical-engineering-biological embankment laboratory will be designed under natural conditions with a high degree of digitalization. An essential point is that the decisive factor precipitation and the associated water balance of the embankment can be modelled by means of irrigation. All parameters will be recorded automatically and in real time (=digital slope). The aim of the research project is to investigate different construction methods under comparable and repeatable conditions with regard to erosion protection or erosion susceptibility. In a field test, it will be found out which earthwork measures in combination with which engineer-biological safety measures prevent or reduce slope erosion most sustainably.


Digitalization of the pile production

The aim of the research project in cooperation with industry is to develop a correlation between the production times of cased bored piles and the properties of the ground. A consideration of the different drill bits, casing systems as well as drilling equipment is the basis of the evaluations. The different production protocols of piles in different geological conditions will be evaluated. Supplementary geotechnical laboratory tests and model tests are planned. Documentation and sampling at current pile construction sites are useful to improve the interpretation. On the basis of the performance records during the production of cased bored piles, the soil properties and the drilling equipment, a forecast of their behavior is to be made in conjunction with numerical calculations.




The new constitutive model of barodesy, that has been launched in Innsbruck by em. Prof. Kolymbas, is being further investigated with the aim of introducing a more realistic approach to the critical void ratio. This notion is crucial for every constitutive relation for soils. The generally accepted concept is that the critical void ratio is stress dependent in the sense that it is a function of mean stress. The current research of em. Prof. Kolymbas aims at introducing an evolution equation for the critical void ratio. The so far obtained simulation results are promising.

Barodesy is a constitutive model for granular materials. The model captures barotropy, pyknotropy and comprises concepts from Critical State Soil Mechanics, as a stress-dilatancy relation and a stress dependent Cricital State Line

As the stress rate is formulated as a function of current stress and void ratio, it has certain  similarities to Hypoplasticity. Barodesy was introduced in 2009 by Kolymbas and since then further developed, improved and applied.

Current research project (2017-2121, Austrian Science Fund (FWF) Project P 28934-N32): Reloading in Barodesy

researchers involved: D. Kolymbas, W. Fellin, G. MedicusM. Bode

research center:



Stability of submerged slopes 

Failure of submerged slopes can have serious consequences, e.g. trigger tsunamis. In this project, the stability is investigated by boundary equilibrium methods and by strength reduction method in finite element calculation. High-quality material models or at least non-linear strength criteria are used. The project is processed in cooperation with the Institute of Geology and is part of the doctoral program Natural Hazards in Mountain Regions.

Researchers involved: X. Dai, B. Schneider-Muntau, W. Fellin

research center: Computational Engineering und Alpine Infrastructure Engineering



Verification of a sufficient anchor length

For anchored excavation walls, an analysis of the ‘lower failure plane’ on basis of classical earth statics has to be performed to verify the stability. For this purpose, a proof according to Kranz is currently used. Alternative approaches are being investigated.

researchers involved: W. Fellin

research center: Alpine Infrastructure Engineering



Strength reduction

To determine a factor of safety in finite element calculations, the strength of the material is usually reduced step by step (strength reduction) until failure occurs. In this project the influence of different material models on the factor of safety is investigated. An important aspect is the termination criterion in finite element modelling, i.e. what is the definition of failure.

Researchers involved: B. Schneider-Muntau, G. Medicus, M. Bode, W. Fellin in Kooperation mit F. Tschuchnigg (TU Graz)

research center: Computational Engineering und Alpine Infrastructure Engineering









Validation of geomechanical models and analytical approaches in tunnelling

For the Brenner base tunnel, lot of data is collected during construction. The evaluation of this data and the subsequent validation of different geomechanical models and analytical approaches build the basis for this research cooperation.

Researchers involved: B. Schneider-Muntau in Kooperation mit T. Cordes, Chr. Reinhold, K. Bergmeister (BBT-SE)

research center: Computational Engineering und Alpine Infrastructure Engineering









Masterarbeiten können als Student*in der Umweltingenieurwissenschaften und als Student*in der Bauingenieurwissenschaften mit Wahl der Vertiefungsrichtung „GVW“ absolviert werden.

Richtwert für die Bearbeitungszeit: 4-6 Monate

Suchmaschinen für die Literaturrecherche: te@chthought

Die fertige Arbeit sollte in das Repositorium der Universität eingebunden werden: Upload ULB


Eigenes Thema

Wir sind gerne bereit, über Themenvorschläge von Seiten der StudentInnen zu diskutieren, z.B. wenn eine Masterarbeit in einem Unternehmen geschrieben werden soll.

Betreuung: nach Wahl
Themengebiet: nach Wahl


Zur Zeit stehen am Arbeitsbereich für Geotechnik folgende Themen zur


  1. HangmurenNET - Früherkennung von Hangmuren
  2. Hahnebaum/Passer – Südtirol: Kriechdruck auf Wildbachsperren und Entwicklung neuer Bautypen
  3.  Auswirkungen von Baugrundeigenschaften auf die Herstellung von verrohrten Bohrpfählen
  4.  Deutschnofen, Sattlerbach – Südtirol: Kriechdruck auf Wildbachsperren und Sicherung einer Massenbewegung
  5. Erosionsschutz und Böschungsstabilisierung bei Autobahnen
  6. Beschreibung des Verhaltens von Mikropfählen (Vollstäbe und Hohlstäbe) für Gründungen von Steinschlagschutznetzen
  7. Versagen unendlich langer Böschungen im Labor
  8. Entwurf von Mehrbrunnenanlagen
  9. Untersuchung der inneren und äußeren Standsicherheit von Gabionenkonstruktionen
  10. Alternative zum Nachweis in der Tiefen Gleitfuge
  11. Schnee und Lawinen









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