Montana State University professor of geography Kathy Hansen has received a $160,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to do a comprehensive study of snow stability over space and time. Revealing some of the true properties and behaviors of snow could lead to better predictions of potential avalanches in the western United States as well as in the alpine regions of the world, she contends.
Karl Birkeland, an adjunct professor at Montana State and an avalanche scientist for the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center, is co-principal investigator for the two-year study. He says that even in the East, where mountains are not as high but where concentration of recreational skiers is greater, the danger of avalanches is significant on all open snow covered slopes of 30 degrees and steeper when multiple layers of snow affect its stability.
That is the case this winter in the East, where many slopes have experienced numerous storms making it heaven for skiers, but more risky on avalanche-susceptible mountainsides. Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, for example, accounted for the first two deaths of the current North American winter season when an avalanche buried two people last November.
"Snow is highly dynamic and we've done years of research on snow stability, but now we feel we have the tools to fill a fundamental gap of knowledge by studying how snow stability changes at various geographic locations over time, rather than just taking a single snapshot of an area and making generalizations," Hansen explains. "Snow changes quickly -- by the minute and we want to understand better how to analyze ch
Contact: Bill Noxon
National Science Foundation