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Avalanche formation and dynamics

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Head: Dr. Alec Van Herwijnen

Snow avalanches occur in snow covered mountain areas throughout the world and cause property damage and loss of life. Our main goals are therefore to better understand how avalanches form, how they flow and interact with objects, and how we can best transfer scientific knowledge to decision makers and the public. In our work, we combine field and laboratory experiments with numerical models with the goal to improve avalanche forecasting and develop new tools for practitioners. We focus on three core topics: avalanche formation, avalanche dynamics and knowledge transfer.

Avalanche formation

Head: Dr. Alec Van Herwijnen

When, where and why will avalanches release. These are fundamental questions for both our research and avalanche forecasting. To answers to these questions, our goals are to (1) improve our understanding of the fundamental processes leading to avalanches release, (2) establish new methods to obtain more accurate avalanche activity data, and (3) develop numerical models to predict if avalanches are likely to release. In our research, we therefore use a wide range of methods, develop and test new instruments, perform field and laboratory experiments, and maintain several well instrumented field sites around Davos. Ultimately, our main objective is to better understand avalanche formation processes to improve avalanche forecasting.

Avalanche Dynamics

Head: Betty Sovilla

The general objective of avalanche dynamics research is to develop the knowledge and tools necessary to determine avalanche danger zones and plan appropriate protective measures. To this end, our central research questions focus on determining the evolution of the destructive force exerted by an avalanche along its path and defining the point at which an avalanche finally stops. To achieve these goals, we aim to (1) improve our understanding of the fundamental processes that control avalanche dynamics using field experiments such as those performed at the Vallée de la Sionne test site, as well as laboratory tests, (2) develop new methods for measuring dynamical variables such as pressure, velocity, or density of moving avalanches, and (3) develop the next generation of physical and numerical models that can provide the support needed for hazard assessment in a challenging future dominated by climate change.

Knowledge transfer

Head: Stephan Harvey

The complex processes from avalanche release to the deposition need to be understood for decision makers and practitioners. We transfer research findings into applicable learning and assessment tools, develop concepts and simple models to make complex knowledge about avalanches comprehensible. We develop and maintain the knowledge platform White Risk. We also provide relevant knowledge through leaflets, specific map layers and our avalanche textbook. Further we teach courses for avalanche professionals and educators. Overall, we cooperate across teams, keeping our goal in mind to ensure that avalanche professionals, practitioners as well as the general public can profit the most from knowledge gained in our research.