Micromechanical modeling of snow failure

Bobillier, Grégoire; Bergfeld, Bastian; Capelli, Achille; Dual, Jürg; Gaume, Johan; van Herwijnen, Alec; Schweizer, Jürg

Dry-snow slab avalanches start with the formation of a local failure in a highly porous weak layer underlying a cohesive snow slab. If followed by rapid crack propagation within the weak layer and finally a tensile fracture through the slab, a slab avalanche releases. While the basic concepts of avalanche release are relatively well understood, performing fracture experiments in the laboratory or in the field can be difficult due to the fragile nature of weak snow layers. Numerical simulations are a valuable tool for the study of micromechanical processes that lead to failure in snow. We used a three-dimensional discrete element method (3-D DEM) to simulate and analyze failure processes in snow. Cohesive and cohesionless ballistic deposition allowed us to reproduce porous weak layers and dense cohesive snow slabs, respectively. To analyze the micromechanical behavior at the scale of the snowpack (inline-formula∼1 m), the particle size was chosen as a compromise between low computational costs and detailed representation of important micromechanical processes. The 3-D-DEM snow model allowed reproduction of the macroscopic behavior observed during compression and mixed-mode loading of dry-snow slab and the weak snow layer. To be able to reproduce the range of snow behavior (elastic modulus, strength), relations between DEM particle and contact parameters and macroscopic behavior were established. Numerical load-controlled failure experiments were performed on small samples and compared to results from load-controlled laboratory tests. Overall, our results show that the discrete element method allows us to realistically simulate snow failure processes. Furthermore, the presented snow model seems appropriate for comprehensively studying how the mechanical properties of the slab and weak layer influence crack propagation preceding avalanche release.

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Bobillier, Grégoire / Bergfeld, Bastian / Capelli, Achille / et al: Micromechanical modeling of snow failure. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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