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Avalanche of 18 January 1997 on Brenva glacier, Mont Blanc Group, Western Italian Alps: an unusual process of formation

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At 1455 h on 18 January 1997, an airborne powder avalanche with a volume of about 3 × 106 m3 flowed along the tongue of Brenva glacier, high Aosta valley, on the southern flank of Val Veny, Italy. It descended 2000 m and covered a distance of 5.5 km, with a rate of movement on the intermediate stretch of > 70 m s−1. It killed two skiers following a valley-bottom piste, damaged a hotel, destroyed a wide belt of woodland on the opposite slope and caused other minor damage. The avalanche occurred immediately after a large rockfall on the southern slope of the Sperone della Brenva (3567 m a.s.l.). However, the relationship between the two events can only be considered indirect, since the main mass of the rockfall stopped at the base of the scar, on a large plateau on the glacier surface. The rockfall and subsequent shock caused the contemporaneous detachment of masses of ice and/or firn from hanging glaciers at the head of a nearby cirque, leading to the formation of the avalanche. The complex mechanism of detachment hypothesized was induced from available documentation and from in situ investigations. Its phases also coincide with seismograms recorded at a station 45 km from the avalanche area. Finally, a mathematical model of the avalanche was used to reconstruct its dynamics and path.

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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