Automatic classification of manual snow profiles by snow structure
Manual snowpack observations are an important component of avalanche hazard assessment for the Swiss avalanche forecasting service. Approximately 900 snow profiles are observed each winter, in flat study plots or on representative slopes. So far, these profiles have been manually classified combining both information on snow stability (e.g. Rutschblock test) and snowpack structure (e.g. layering, hardness). To separate the classification of snowpack stability and structure, and also to reduce inconsistencies in ratings between forecasters, we developed and tested an automatic approach to classify profiles by snowpack structure during two winters. The automatic classification is based on a calculated index, which consists of three components: properties of (1) the slab (thickness), (2) weakest layer interface and (3) the percentage of the snowpack which is soft, coarse-grained and consists of persistent grain types. The latter two indices are strongly based on criteria described in the threshold sum approach. The new snowpack structure index allows a consistent comparison of snowpack structure to detect regional patterns, seasonal or inter-annual differences but may also supplement snow-climate classifications.