Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers Will No Longer Be 'Snowed' In Predicting Future Avalanches

Date:
February 21, 2003
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
The recent deaths of 14 Canadian skiers in two separate snow avalanches in British Columbia have increased attention on safety issues, but some U.S. scientists are turning their focus elsewhere – to studying the properties of snow stability that could lead to more accurate means of predicting avalanche events.

ARLINGTON, Virginia - The recent deaths of 14 Canadian skiers in two separate snow avalanches in British Columbia have increased attention on safety issues, but some U.S. scientists are turning their focus elsewhere – to studying the properties of snow stability that could lead to more accurate means of predicting avalanche events.

Montana State University professor of geography Kathy Hansen has received a $160,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to do a comprehensive study of snow stability over space and time. Revealing some of the true properties and behaviors of snow could lead to better predictions of potential avalanches in the western United States as well as in the alpine regions of the world, she contends.

Karl Birkeland, an adjunct professor at Montana State and an avalanche scientist for the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center, is co-principal investigator for the two-year study. He says that even in the East, where mountains are not as high but where concentration of recreational skiers is greater, the danger of avalanches is significant on all open snow covered slopes of 30 degrees and steeper when multiple layers of snow affect its stability.

That is the case this winter in the East, where many slopes have experienced numerous storms – making it heaven for skiers, but more risky on avalanche-susceptible mountainsides. Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, for example, accounted for the first two deaths of the current North American winter season when an avalanche buried two people last November.

"Snow is highly dynamic and we've done years of research on snow stability, but now we feel we have the tools to fill a fundamental gap of knowledge by studying how snow stability changes at various geographic locations over time, rather than just taking a single snapshot of an area and making generalizations," Hansen explains. "Snow changes quickly -- by the minute – and we want to understand better how to analyze characteristics of weakening that occur in snowpacks."

"As populations increase in and around mountainous regions, recreational activities are more concentrated. Hazards exist not only in terms of individual risks, but also to property, as more people choose to live in remote areas," says Tom Baerwald, NSF's Geography and Regional Science Program director in the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. "This fundamental research by Hansen and her colleagues will give us valuable new information that will save lives in the future."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated there are more than 10,000 reported snow avalanches each year, but Birkeland, in his Forest Service role, estimates that the number of unreported avalanches, to include remote, inaccessible areas, could be up to a hundred times more numerous. He also says that over the past decade, the average number of deaths in the U.S. has nearly doubled due to avalanches. In 1991, FEMA estimated the annual death toll to be about 17. The death rate is now about 30 per year, according to Birkeland. Population increases in mountainous areas, and a general increase in skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in undeveloped backcountry areas are among the reasons for rising avalanche-caused deaths.

Much of the previous research on snow stability has looked at individual slopes at a single moment in time, but snowpacks, as researchers have discovered, are dynamic systems. Using a new snow stability test, and a sensitive instrument co-developed by Switzerland's Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research and by the U.S. Army Cold Regions Engineering Lab, Hansen and Birkeland will sample, over limited periods, how snow stability changes over adjacent 900-square-meter plots across a variety of field sites. The researchers will collect data on how spatial patterns of snow change through time, looking at patterns of weak layer thickness, strength and microstructural change.

"In addition to our measurements with the SnowMicroPen, which will provide detailed microstructural information about the snowpack, we are also using a 'quantified loaded column test,' allowing us to measure the strength between layers of snow," Birkeland explains. "This is critical for avalanche prediction, because the large amounts of data we obtain should give us an indication of how a snowpack evolves and how avalanches release."

"Not only by looking at where a weak layer is, but how it changes day-to-day, will help us structurally and geographically in being more predictive," Hansen says. "We have figured out what precise measurements within the snowpack will produce the knowledge we need to assess the geography of snow strength and stability."

Beyond the basic knowledge the benefit of science, Hansen's group hopes to provide relevant insights in avalanche forecasting, protection of life and property, mitigation, and education for avalanche professionals, and for people who live, work, play and travel within mountain environments.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Researchers Will No Longer Be 'Snowed' In Predicting Future Avalanches." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/02/030221080055.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2003, February 21). Researchers Will No Longer Be 'Snowed' In Predicting Future Avalanches. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/02/030221080055.htm
National Science Foundation. "Researchers Will No Longer Be 'Snowed' In Predicting Future Avalanches." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/02/030221080055.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 22, 2014) — Iceland evacuates an area north of the country's Bardarbunga volcano, as the country's civil protection agency says it cannot rule out an eruption. Authorities have already warned airlines. As Joel Flynn reports, ash from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — China's energy revolution could do more harm than good for the environment, despite the country's commitment to reducing pollution and curbing its carbon emissions. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — Aluminum giant, Novelis, has partnered with Red Hare Brewing Company to introduce the first certified high-content recycled beverage can. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins