Dynamics of glide avalanches and snow gliding

In recent years, due to warmer snow cover, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of damage caused by gliding snowpacks and glide avalanches. On most occasions, these have been full-depth, wet-snow avalanches, and this led some people to express their surprise: how could low-speed masses of wet snow exert sufficiently high levels of pressure to severely damage engineered structures designed to carry heavy loads? This paper reviews the current state of knowledge about the formation of glide avalanches and the forces exerted on simple structures by a gliding mass of snow. One particular difficulty in reviewing the existing literature on gliding snow and on force calculations is that much of the theoretical and phenomenological analyses were presented in technical reports that date back to the earliest developments of avalanche science in the 1930s. Returning to these primary sources and attempting to put them into a contemporary perspective are vital. A detailed, modern analysis of them shows that the order of magnitude of the forces exerted by gliding snow can indeed be estimated correctly. The precise physical mechanisms remain elusive, however. We comment on the existing approaches in light of the most recent findings about related topics, including the physics of granular and plastic flows, and from field surveys of snow and avalanches (as well as glaciers and debris flows). Methods of calculating the forces exerted by glide avalanches are compared quantitatively on the basis of two case studies. This paper shows that if snow depth and density are known, then certain approaches can indeed predict the forces exerted on simple obstacles in the event of glide avalanches or gliding snow cover.

Published in:
Reviews of Geophysics, AGU, Wiley, 53, 3, 745-784
Washington, Amer Geophysical Union

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 Record created 2014-06-12, last modified 2019-04-16

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