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Modeling snow instability with the snow-cover model SNOWPACK

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SNOWPACK has been in operational use for five consecutive winters on approximately 100 automatic weather stations in the Swiss Alps. It calculates snow precipitation, snowdrift and the layered structure of the snow cover. An analysis routine has been implemented that gives a stability estimation for a model profile. We distinguish between slab instability and direct action or deformation-rate instability. Slab instability relies on a static force balance within the snowpack (stability index) and may be used to assess stability for both natural and skier-triggered slab avalanches. We heuristically improve the slab index by adding a term of overload correction for all grain types and scaling the stability index with the bond size. Deformation-rate instability means that the load of the snow cover increases faster than the snow gains strength. An index is formulated based on the snow deformation rate. It may be associated with large snowfall events and wet-snow situations as they occur in catastrophic situations, or with the effect of a sudden increase in temperature. The results of both stability indices are compared to the forecasted avalanche danger. The indices are able to recognize cases of avalanching. It is shown that the inclusion of several locations, for which the indices are calculated, improves the correlation between stability indices and avalanche danger. A sufficient number of profiles could bridge the gap between snow-cover characteristics at a point and avalanche danger.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2004

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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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