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Mapping a glide avalanche with terrestrial lidar in Glacier National Park, USA

October 8, 2023

Thorough documentation of large avalanche events is important for forecasting efforts, infrastructure planning, and investigating the processes involved in avalanche formation and release. However, due in part to the isolated and dangerous nature of avalanche terrain, collecting in-situ, spatially continuous, and quantitative information surrounding avalanches remains difficult. Advances in remote sensing continue to address this knowledge gap. For example, terrestrial laser scanners (TLSs) can produce snow depth measurements at fine spatial resolutions over large areas. Repeat data acquisitions between precipitation events also allow for depth quantification atop an interface, as well as precise estimations of release volume and runout area after avalanche failure. Here, we explore the benefits of TLS-derived documentation from a large avalanche event by examining the development and release of a glide avalanche that occurred in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, during the spring of 2022. Three sets of lidar point cloud data were acquired in the Haystack Creek drainage, focused on a well-known glide avalanche site. Lidar scans were collected after glide cracks emerged but prior to glide failure, and shortly (~ 1.5 days) after avalanche occurrence, in addition to a snow-free scan later in the year. With this temporal dataset, we were able to account for and visualize the spatial variability of snow depth across the avalanche start zone, such that we could precisely calculate the release volume (18674 m3) and average start zone depth (3.3 m) of the avalanche. Furthermore, TLS data were used to map the extent of the runout area and entrainment zone.

Publication Year 2023
Title Mapping a glide avalanche with terrestrial lidar in Glacier National Park, USA
Authors James W. Dillon, Zachary Miller, Erich Peitzsch, Kevin D. Hammonds
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70249584
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center