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Evaluation of the shear frame test for weak snowpack layers

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The shear frame allows testing of thin weak snowpack layers that are often critical for slab avalanche release. A shear metal frame with an area of 0.01–0.05 m−2 is used to grip the snow a few mm above a buried weak snowpack layer. Using a force gauge, the frame is pulled until a fracture occurs in the weak layer within 1 s. The strength is calculated from the maximum force divided by the area of the frame. Finite-element studies show that the shear stress in the weak layer is concentrated below the cross-members that subdivide the frame and where the weak layer is notched at the front and back of the frame. Placing the bottom of the frame in the weak layer increases the stress concentrations, and results in significantly lower strength measurements than placing the bottom of the frame a few mm above the weak layer. Based on over 800 sets of 7–12 tests in western Canada, coefficients of variation average 14% and 18% from level study plots and avalanche start zones, respectively. Consequently, sets of 12 tests typically yield a precision of the mean of 10% with 95% confidence, which is sufficient for monitoring of strength change of weak layers over time in study plots. With consistent technique, there is no significant difference in mean strength measurements obtained by different experienced shear frame operators using the same approximate loading rate and technique for placing the frame. Although fracture surfaces are usually planar, only one of eleven shapes of non-planar fracture surfaces showed significantly different strength compared to planar fracture surfaces. For weak layers thick enough for density measurements, the shear strength is plotted against density and grain form. From these data, empirical equations are determined to estimate the shear strength of weak snowpack layers.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2001-01-01

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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