Understanding self-sustained crack propagation in snow - the key to predicting avalanche size


Alec van Herwijnen


Bastian Bergfeld


Bastian Bergfeld




If an avalanche is triggered, how large will it be? This question is vital for both avalanche forecasters and winter backcountry travelers. There is no simple answer, as little is known about self-sustained crack propagation, a process that largely controls avalanche release size. While in recent years computer models have been used to study this process, there is a need for experimental data to provide ground truth data and validate the results.

Researchers at SLF recently developed new field methods to investigate self-sustained crack propagation. These allowed us, for the first time, to directly measure self-sustained cracks in avalanches in Davos in January 2021. The aim of this project is therefore to analyze these data to gain much needed insight into self-sustained crack propagation controlling avalanche release and avalanche size.