Mountain forests, natural hazards and GIS


  • Risk-based assessment of the protective effect of forests against rock fall, landslides and floods 
    Characterisation of forest structure (remote sensing, inventory, GIS analysis), modelling hazard processes with and without the influence of forests, developing risk-based methods for assessing protective forests 
  • Fact-based, sustainable mountain and protective forest management 
    Marteloscope-based studies into mountain silviculture, regeneration ecology in mountain forests, the influence of game on regeneration 
  • Engineering biology and forest engineering 
    Development of methods to quantify forest engineering measures in the areas of landslide and rock fall 
  • State-of-the-art GIS expertise
    Customised tools for (large-scale) GIS analyses, mobile GIS, precision GPS, web GIS, real-time GIS and remote sensing, database development, consulting and user-support, modern cartography 


Prof. Dr Luuk Dorren, Lecturer in Natural Hazards and Geo-information systems

Prof. Jean-Jacques Thormann, Lecturer in Protective Forest Management and Natural Hazards

Adel AlbabaResearch Scientist

Eric GasserPhD student

Mark Günter, Research Scientist

Kathrin Kühne, Assistant

Julia Menk, Research Scientist

Christine MoosPhD student

Christoph Schaller, Research Scientist

Dr Massimiliano Schwarz, Research Scientist


Current Projects


The overall objective of the project is to reinforce and strengthen the implementation of rockfall risk prevention policy and mitigation strategy support in line with a sustainable forest management approach. For achieving that objective, the first harmonized rockfall natural risk and protection forest mapping for the entire Alpine Space will be provided.

Total amount : 2246416,50€, ERDF claim: 1856844,40€

Project management: Luuk Dorren

More information


Long-term effects of invasive tree species

The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) originates in China and is an invasive tree species in Switzerland. An international project under the aegis of HAFL investigates the ecology and long-term dynamics of stands of Ailanthus altissima in Ticino and also, for the first time, in China. The researchers utilise the knowledge gained to model invasion processes and develop scenarios of the development of forests invaded by Ailanthus altissima. The project’s aim is to develop methods allowing for the quantification of the protective effect of such forests against rockfalls. The project is being undertaken by HAFL, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), the University of Bern and the French National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA) and is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). 

Project management: Luuk Dorren

Project description

Marteloscopes in mountain forests

Marteloscopes are forest areas where each tree of a certain diameter is measured and mapped. They serve as a didactic tool to discuss a multitude of silvicultural questions through test marking and the subsequent examination of simulated results. Depending on the objectives of the marteloscope, varying single-tree parameters are measured. HAFL researchers are involved in a project investigating how marteloscopes can be set up and adapted to address specific mountain forest issues. The focus is on method comparison and recommendations for setting up the marteloscopes. The researchers also want to clarify how to evaluate individual tree-specific criteria in terms of the sustainable efficacy of protection forest stands (e.g., stability, rejuvenation). In collaboration with the ETH Zurich and the Integrate+ project, HAFL researchers are converting the findings into software which will enable the results from silvicultural exercises to be directly applied in the field. This project is supported by the Forest and Timber Research Fund, ETH Zurich and Cantons Bern and Graubünden. 

Project manager: Jean-Jacques Thormann

Preliminary analysis of the NaiS target profiles for rockfall

Protection forests play an important role in the integrated risk management of natural hazards in Switzerland. They retain rockfalls and thus reduce the costs of technical measures to protect people and infrastructure. In order to sustainably and efficiently ensure the protective function of forests, systematically collected data on rockfalls and their characteristics are necessary. Only through such knowledge can forests be best aligned to endure rockfalls. The aim of this project is, on the one hand, the development of a GIS-based methodology for the systematic collection of cliff heights, average gradients and forested slope length in forest complexes protecting against rockfall, and, on the other hand, the calculation of the required stem number per protection forest complex according to the NaiS minimum and ideal profiles for rockfall. The researchers are also converting the algorithms underpinning the NaiS rockfall tool into a GIS and applying them to each protection forest complex.

Project manager: Luuk Dorren

Management of driftwood in rivers

Driftwood plays a central role in rivers with regards to biodiversity and the functioning of the river ecosystem. In addition to its many positive effects, however, it can pose a risk to the population and their infrastructure during severe weather events. The Federal Office for the Environment, together with HAFL, the University of Bern and the ETH Zurich, has launched a project to better understand and predict driftwood processes. Knowledge about forests on unstable slopes along waterways plays a particularly important role here. The HAFL researchers are developing quantitative methods for mapping the processes that contribute to driftwood entry, taking into account the influence of forest condition and using slope stability models (e.g., slidefor.NET) and new remote sensing technologies (e.g., drones). 

Project manager: Massimiliano Schwarz

Completed projects



 Prof. Jean-Jacques Thormann


Phone +41 (0)31 910 21 47