Snow mechanical property variability at the slope scale – implication for snow mechanical modelling

Meloche, Francis; Gauthier, Francis; Langlois, Alexandre

Snow avalanches represent a natural hazard to infrastructure and backcountry recreationists. Risk assessment of avalanche hazard is difficult due to the sparse nature of available observations informing on snowpack mechanical and geophysical properties and overall stability. The spatial variability of these properties also adds complexity to decision-making and route finding in avalanche terrain for mountain users. Snow cover models can simulate snow mechanical properties with good accuracy at fairly good spatial resolution (around 100 m). However, monitoring small-scale variability at the slope scale (5–50 m) remains critical, since slope stability and the possible size of an avalanche are governed by that scale. To better understand and estimate the spatial variability at the slope scale, this work explores links between snow mechanical properties and microtopographic indicators. Six spatial snow surveys were conducted in two study areas across Canada. Snow mechanical properties, such as snow density, elastic modulus and shear strength, were estimated from high-resolution snow penetrometer (SMP) profiles at multiple locations over several studied slopes, in Rogers Pass, British Columbia, and Mt. Albert, Québec. Point snow stability metrics, such as the skier crack length, critical propagation crack length and a skier stability index, were derived using the snow mechanical properties from SMP measurements. Microtopographic indicators, such as the topographic position index (TPI), vegetation height and proximity, wind-exposed slope index, and potential radiation index, were derived from unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV) surveys with sub-metre resolution. We computed the variogram and the fractal dimension of the snow mechanical properties and stability metrics and compared them. The comparison showed some similarities in the correlation distances and fractal dimensions between the slab thickness and the slab snow density and also between the weak layer strength and the stability metrics. We then spatially modelled snow mechanical properties, including point snow stability, using spatial generalized additive models (GAMs) with microtopographic indicators as covariates. The use of covariates in GAMs suggested that microtopographic indicators can be used to adequately estimate the variation in the snow mechanical properties but not the stability metrics. We observed a difference in the spatial pattern between the slab and the weak layer that should be considered in snow mechanical modelling.



Meloche, Francis / Gauthier, Francis / Langlois, Alexandre: Snow mechanical property variability at the slope scale – implication for snow mechanical modelling. 2024. Copernicus Publications.


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