A New, Swiss Developed Device Could Make Avalanche Forecasting Much Easier

by Chandler
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Today, avalanche forecasters are forced to manually identify characteristics of the snowpack. This time-consuming process is necessary to keep those who love to recreate in the backcountry safe while in potential avalanche prone terrain. Scientists at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF), though, may have a way to make it a bit easier.

The SnowImager, developed in Davos, Switzerland, transmits near-infrared light from LEDs into the snow and two cameras inside the large device measure the light reflected back. According to the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, numbers captured from the scan allow users to easily determine the structure of the snowpack.

The device is placed facing the wall of a snow pit, moved from the bottom to the top on the first scan. On the second pass, a slotted panel covers the front of the device. The values taken from both scans are combined to determine the size of snow crystals and the density within each layer. As the light is sent into the snow, a less-dense snowpack will allow more light through.

We use it to determine both the size of the snow crystals and the density of the individual layers in the snow.” – Lars Mewes, physicist at WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research

The density and structure measurements allow forecasters to identify the separate layers within a snowpack, as well as the strength of said layers, providing incredibly helpful information for avalanche forecasting, flood risk analysis, and climate change research. For now, the bulky device is traveling through Antarctica to see how it can perform in harsh weather environments.

In the meantime, work on a new, foldable prototype is being done in SLF workshops, hopefully set to create a device that’s easier to handle and ready for large amounts of production. Who knows, maybe the SnowImager will find its way into the backpacks of backcountry skiers everywhere in just a few years.

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Related: Utah Skier Caught & Carried In Soft Slab Avalanche

Image Credit: Eidg. Forschungsanstalt WSL via YouTube

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