Avalanche hazard describes the source of potential harm, the nature of potential avalanches, independent of any element at risk. Lots of research has gone into improving our understanding of avalanche as a physical phenomenon and how to monitor factor affecting associated hazard. However, the step from making observations to deciding whether it is safe to enter a particular slope is challenging and requires substantial practical experience.

Our objective in this research area is to improve our ability to assess and communicate information about avalanche hazard by capturing the assessment expertise of avalanche professionals and integrating it with existing assessment methods to develop tools that provide information that is more directly relevant risk management decisions.

Central to our research in this area is the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard (Statham et al., 2017), which provides a tangible pathway for how to derive an avalanche hazard assessment from avalanche safety observations.

Research projects

Current projects

  • Integrating avalanche problems into numerical snowpack models

    Can we predict the presence and severity of different avalanche problem types from simulated weather and snowpack observations

    Objective

    The Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard identifies nine different avalanche problem types (e.g., storm slab avalanche problem, persistent slab avalanche problem). This project examines the relationship between avalanche problems from identified in public avalanche bulletins and modeled weather and snowpack observations produced by a coupled weather and snowpack model. The goal is to develop a small number of pilot models that predict the existence and characteristics of avalanche problems based on modeled weather and snowpack observations for a select number of avalanche problem types.

    Primary researcher

    Moses, Towell, Simon Horton

    Related publications

    In preparation

    Partners

    Glacier National Park

    Funding

    NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management

  • Shedding light on regional snowpack patterns with a coupled weather and snowpack model

    Can we provide meaningful regional overviews of critical snowpack features for avalanche risk management decisions using a coupled weather and snowpack model?

    Objective

    Numeric models are emerging as a powerful tool to predict natural phenomena, including weather and snowpack conditions. However, it can be difficult to find meaningful information from the vast amounts of data produced by these models. The objective of this project is to simplify and visualize the output of numerical snowpack models as a simplified representation of the snowpack. We will identify and highlight the properties and variability of key snowpack features within a region. This information will be shared with avalanche forecasters in a way that could help them make avalanche hazard assessments in remote or data sparse areas.

    Primary researcher

    Simon Horton

    Related publications

    In preparation

    Funding

    NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management

  • SARP infrastructure for modeling the snowpack for western Canada at SFU

    Developing the necessary infrastructure for running a coupled weather and snowpack model for western Canada at SFU

    Objective

    We are developing infrastructure to run the snow cover model SNOWPACK on a Compute Canada supercomputer. Powerful research computing resources allow us to produce large batches of simulations across Canada’s large mountain ranges. Python, linux, and R code is being developed to manage this workflow, and tools are being developed to analyze and visualize the output.

    Primary researcher

    Simon Horton

    Related publications

    n/a

    Funding

    NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management

  • Linking avalanche danger ratings to the CMAH

    What danger ratings are associated with different combinations of avalanche problem types, likelihood of avalanches and destructive size?

    Objective

    Daily avalanche bulletins are prepared by Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada to communicate avalanche hazard information to the public in western Canada. They represent the primary source of information for recreationalists assessing avalanche hazard when planning trips in mountainous backcountry terrain. While the recently introduced conceptual model of avalanche hazard (CMAH) provides avalanche forecasters with a framework for assimilating observations and characterizing avalanche hazard in a structured way, the CMAH does not provide guidance on how to rate the conditions according to the North American avalanche danger scale, a ordinal five-levels scale, which is used to communicate the general character of the conditions to the public in the most concise way. Danger scale ratings are a critical input parameter for popular decision aids like the Avaluator and some worksite avalanche safety plans use them to initiate mitigation measures. Using the operational avalanche bulletin databases of Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada (2010 to 2017), this research establishes a quantitative link between hazard assessments according to the CMAH and avalanche danger ratings using a variety of supervised machine learning techniques.

    Primary researcher

    Taylor Clark

    Related publications

    n/a

    Industrial partner

    Avalanche Canada
    Parks Canada

    Funding

    University Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management

  • Seasonal avalanche hazard forecasting

    How do climate variabilities such as ENSO or PDO affect avalanche hazard in western Canada?

    Objective

    While the effect of large-scale climate patterns (e.g., El Niño-Southern Oscillation) on winter temperature and precipitation in Western Canada is relatively well understood, little is known regarding the link between climate and avalanche hazard. Previous studies have been hindered by inconsistent or incomplete avalanche, weather, and snowfall observations. Using avalanche hazard assessments from Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada from the 2009/10 to 2016/17 winter seasons I examine the nature and variability of avalanche hazard and the relationship to large-scale climate patterns. I identify typical avalanche hazard situations and calculate their seasonal prevalence to develop a quantitative measure of the nature of local avalanche hazard conditions. I then use the prevalence values of typical hazard conditions to examine of the relationship between climate variabilities and avalanche hazard. This study suggests a relationship between the climate patterns and avalanche hazard situations with a method that is more informative for avalanche risk management.

    Primary researcher

    Bret Shandro

    Related publications

    Shandro, B (2017) Linking avalanche hazard in Western Canada to climate oscillations. M.R.M. research project no. 676, 2017-3. School of Resource and Environmental Management. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.

    Shandro et al. (2016) Spatial and temporal distribution of avalanche problem types in Western Canada: An analysis of the winter 2010-2016. Proceedings of the 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge, CO, 1307-1314.

    Industrial partner

    Avalanche Canada
    Parks Canada

    Funding

    University Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management
    MITACS Accelerate in partnership with Avalanche Canada.

Recent publications

Characterizing the nature and variability of avalanche hazard in western Canada

Hazard AssessmentJournal Paper
Bret Shandro and Pascal Haegeli
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 1141-1158, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-18-1141-2018.
Publication year: 2018

A conceptual model of avalanche hazard

Hazard AssessmentJournal Paper
Grant Statham, Pascal Haegeli, Ethan Greene, Karl Birkeland, Clair Israelson, Bruce Tremper, Chris Stethem, Bruce McMahon, Brad White, John Kelly
Natural Hazards, 90(2), 663-691. doi:10.1007/s11069-017-3070-5
Publication year: 2018

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