Unraveling the History of Avalanches in Juneau

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Scientific American recently published an article detailing how imformation learned from tree rings can help researchers understand the history of avalanches in the Juneau area. Alaska CASC-funded researcher Gabriel Wolken is working with the State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys and local partners to model past and future avalanches at sites around Alaska.

Read the original article published by Scientific American here

Understanding the history of avalanches and modeling the likelihood of future events is critical in Juneau, Alaska, which has the highest urban avalanche potential of any city in the United States. This past summer, a team of researchers including Alaska CASC-funded researcher Gabriel Wolken, Alaska CASC consortium partner Eran Hood, and Erich Peitzsch from the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center traversed seven major avalanche paths in the Juneau area. Their goal was to collect samples of wood from trees that had been exposed to avalanches. After an avalanche, impacted trees continue to grow and heal, resulting in dark rings that can be dated to create a time frame of past avalanche events. 

The tree rings collected by the team were sent to a lab in order to determine possible patterns of avalanche events, including how frequently large avalanches occur, as well as to draw parallels between avalanche activity and atmospheric circulation patterns. Using this data, Wolken is creating computer simulations to better understand the movement and distribution of snow during past avalanche events. These simulations can be used as a baseline to understand how climate change might impact the frequency and intensity of avalanches in the future. 

This project is funded in part by the Alaska CASC. Read a previous story about this project here.

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Taku Range, Juneau Icefield, Alaska

Image of the Taku towers, among the Taku Range at Taku Glacier during the summer of 2019

(Credit: Christopher McNeil, USGS. Public domain.)