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Observations and modeling of the braking effect of forests on small and medium avalanches

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A long-standing problem in avalanche science is to understand how forests stop avalanches. In this paper we quantify the effect of forests on small and medium avalanches, crucial for road and ski-run safety. We performed field studies on seven avalanches where trees affected the runout. We gathered information concerning the release zone location and dimension, deposition patterns and heights, runout distance and forest structure. In these studies the trees were not destroyed, but acted as rigid obstacles. Wedge-like depositions formed behind (1) individual tree stems, (2) dense tree groups and (3) young trees with low-lying branches. Using the observations as a guide, we developed a one-parameter function to extract momentum corresponding to the stopped mass from the avalanche. The function was implemented in a depth-averaged avalanche dynamics model and used to predict the observed runout distances and mean deposition heights for the seven case studies. The approach differs from existing forest interaction models, which modify avalanche friction to account for tree breakage and debris entrainment. Our results underscore the importance of forests in mitigating the danger from small-to-medium avalanches.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2014

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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