Journal article

Granulation of snow: From tumbler experiments to discrete element simulations

It is well known that snow avalanches exhibit granulation phenomena, i.e., the formation of large and apparently stable snow granules during the flow. The size distribution of the granules has an influence on flow behavior which, in turn, affects runout distances and avalanche velocities. The underlying mechanisms of granule formation are notoriously difficult to investigate within large-scale field experiments, due to limitations in the scope for measuring temperatures, velocities, and size distributions. To address this issue we present experiments with a concrete tumbler, which provide an appropriate means to investigate granule formation of snow. In a set of experiments at constant rotation velocity with varying temperatures and water content, we demonstrate that temperature has a major impact on the formation of granules. The experiments showed that granules only formed when the snow temperature exceeded -1(degrees)C. No evolution in the granule size was observed at colder temperatures. Depending on the conditions, different granulation regimes are obtained, which are qualitatively classified according to their persistence and size distribution. The potential of granulation of snow in a tumbler is further demonstrated by showing that generic features of the experiments can be reproduced by cohesive discrete element simulations. The proposed discrete element model mimics the competition between cohesive forces, which promote aggregation, and impact forces, which induce fragmentation, and supports the interpretation of the granule regime classification obtained from the tumbler experiments. Generalizations, implications for flow dynamics, and experimental and model limitations as well as suggestions for future work are discussed.


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