AbstractsEarth & Environmental Science

Water movement in a stratified and inclined snowpack : implications for wet slab avalanches

by Erich Hans. Peitzsch

Institution: Montana State University
Year: 2009
Keywords: Avalanches.; Snow Thermal properties.
Record ID: 1854419
Full text PDF: http://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/handle/1/2034


Wet snow avalanches are dangerous and can be particularly difficult to predict. The rate of change from safe snow conditions to dangerous snow conditions occurs rapidly in a wet snowpack, often in response to water production and movement. This research focused on the relationship between snow stratigraphy and water movement in an inclined snowpack. Concentrating on transitions that impede water and flow finger formation within the snowpack, dye tracer was mixed with water and applied to a stratified snowpack to observe and measure the movement of water in various snow grain types, sizes, densities, and temperatures. There were two types of layer transitions that impeded water. Water was impeded at capillary boundaries caused by fine grains over coarse grains. It was also impeded at hydraulic conductivity boundaries, such as ice layers. In layer transitions that impeded water, the grain size of the layer above was significantly smaller than the layer below. The layer above a transition that impeded water was also significantly less dense than the layer below the transition. A qualitative analysis of grain type showed that there was no relationship between grain types in the layer above or below a transition and whether they will or will not impede water. A SnowMicroPen (SMP) was used to measure changes in structural element length to identify capillary boundaries. Results from SMP measurements indicate that microstructural analysis of the snowpack aids in characterizing capillary boundaries that impede water flow. The step change, rate of change, and percent increase were significantly larger in capillary boundaries than transitions that did not impede water for the entire dataset from all 8 sessions. When all transitions were ranked according to absolute change for each profile, capillary boundaries consistently ranked in the top two of all transitions evident within each SMP profile. The amount of water needed to produce flow fingers was highly variable. There was no significant relationship between the amount of water necessary to form flow fingers and snow density, snow grain size, snow temperature, or grain type. Layer transitions that impeded vertical water movement and flow finger formation may both play a large role in wet slab avalanche formation.