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DURANGO, Colo.— Weather contingent, U.S. Geological Survey crews will be deploying various airborne technologies to better understand avalanche prone regions near Coal Bank Pass and an area east of US 550 in during the week of April 8.  

The public can expect to see increased vehicle and personnel presence at various locations along US 550 near Coal Bank Pass. Small, Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (sUAS or drones) will be launched from pull-outs, and personnel will conduct various ground-based data collects in the backcountry east of US 550 to validate the data obtained using airborne platforms. 


This research will focus on airborne monitoring of snow-depth and snow stratigraphy to assist with identifying avalanche prone regions, which intersect with Colorado Department of Transportation assets such as roadways and engineered structures. This is a collaborative effort between USGS, University of Southern California, Drone Amplified, and CDOT. 


Historically, avalanche risk is assessed using (1) conventional snow pit and probe data, which is manually collected in the field, (2) distributed ground-based snow and weather stations (e.g., SNOTEL), and (3) snow and weather model results.  


Safety and the spatial distribution of data collected in avalanche-prone areas can be significantly increased by deploying non-contact sensors such as sUAS-based wideband, software-defined (SD) ground-penetrating radar (GPR). 


Similar work was conducted at Berthoud Pass in 2023 and Cameron Pass in 2020; however, this study will deploy a new SD GPR antenna design. 

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