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Tree-ring derived avalanche frequency and climate associations in a high-latitude, maritime climate

July 28, 2023

Snow avalanches are a natural hazard in mountainous areas worldwide with severe impacts that include fatalities, damage to infrastructure, disruption to commerce, and landscape disturbance. Understanding long-term avalanche frequency patterns, and associated climate and weather influences, improves our understanding of how climate change may affect avalanche activity. We used dendrochronological techniques to evaluate the historical frequency of large magnitude avalanches (LMAs) in the high-latitude climate of southeast Alaska, United States. We collected 434 cross sections throughout six avalanche paths near Juneau, Alaska. This resulted in 2706 identified avalanche growth disturbances between 1720 and 2018, which allowed us to reconstruct 82 years with LMA activity across three sub-regions. By combining this tree-ring-derived avalanche data set with a suite of climate and atmospheric variables and applying a generalized linear model to fit a binomial regression, we found that February and March precipitation and the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) were significant predictors of LMA activity in the study area. Specifically, LMA activity occurred during winters with substantial February and March precipitation and neutral or negative (cold) ONI values, while years not characterized by LMAs occur more frequently during warm winters (positive ONI values). Our examination of the climate-avalanche relationship in southeast Alaska sheds light on important climate variables and physical processes associated with LMA years. These results can be used to inform long-term infrastructure planning and avalanche mitigation operations in an urban area, such as Juneau, where critical infrastructure is subject to substantial avalanche hazard.

Publication Year 2023
Title Tree-ring derived avalanche frequency and climate associations in a high-latitude, maritime climate
DOI 10.1029/2023JF007154
Authors Erich Peitzsch, Eran Hood, John Harley, Daniel Kent Stahle, Nicholas E. Kichas, Gabriel J. Wolken
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface
Index ID 70249589
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center