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Time lapse photography as an approach to understanding glide avalanche activity

January 1, 2012

Avalanches resulting from glide cracks are notoriously difficult to forecast, but are a recurring problem for numerous avalanche forecasting programs. In some cases glide cracks are observed to open and then melt away in situ. In other cases, they open and then fail catastrophically as large, full-depth avalanches. Our understanding and management of these phenomena are currently limited. It is thought that an increase in the rate of snow gliding occurs prior to full-depth avalanche activity so frequent observation of glide crack movement can provide an index of instability. During spring 2011 in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, we began an approach to track glide crack avalanche activity using a time-lapse camera focused on a southwest facing glide crack. This crack melted in-situ without failing as a glide avalanche, while other nearby glide cracks on north through southeast aspects failed. In spring 2012, a camera was aimed at a large and productive glide crack adjacent to the Going to the Sun Road. We captured three unique glide events in the field of view. Unfortunately, all of them either failed very quickly, or during periods of obscured view, so measurements of glide rate could not be obtained. However, we compared the hourly meteorological variables during the period of glide activity to the same variables prior to glide activity. The variables air temperature, relative humidity, air pressure, incoming and reflected long wave radiation, SWE, total precipitation, and snow depth were found to be statistically different for our cases examined. We propose that these are some of the potential precursors for glide avalanche activity, but do urge caution in their use, due to the simple approach and small data set size. It is hoped that by introducing a workable method to easily record glide crack movement, combined with ongoing analysis of the associated meteorological data, we will improve our understanding of when, or if, glide avalanche activity will ensue.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2012
Title Time lapse photography as an approach to understanding glide avalanche activity
Authors Jordy Hendrikx, Erich H. Peitzsch, Daniel B. Fagre
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70169878
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center