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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 03 Sep 2018

Research article | 03 Sep 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS).

Avalanche Impact Pressures on Structures with Upstream Pile-Up/Accumulation Zones of Compacted Snow

Perry Bartelt1, Andrin Caviezel1, Sandro Degonda2, and Othmar Buser1 Perry Bartelt et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Flüelastrasse 11, 7260 Davos Dorf, Switzerland
  • 2ETH Institute for Construction, 8903 Hönggerberg, Zürich, Switzerland

Abstract. Existing methods to calculate snow avalanche impact pressures on rigid obstacles are based on the assumption of no upslope pile-up of snow behind the structure at impact. Here we develop a method to predict avalanche impact pressures that accounts for the compaction and accumulation process. We show why this process leads to large impact pressures even at low avalanche approach velocities. The induced pressure depends on the incoming avalanche flow density relative to the ultimate compaction density because this determines the avalanche braking distance and therefore the flow deceleration in the upstream direction. The pile-up/accumulation process induces two additional pressures: (1) the static pressure of the pile-up zone and (2) the tractive stresses operating on the shear planes interfacing the accumulated and still moving avalanche snow. We demonstrate the use of the model on two theoretical examples and one real case study. Avalanche mitigation in maritime regions, or regions undergoing climate change with increasing wet snow avalanche activity, should consider the forces caused by the pile-up/accumulation process in engineering design.

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Perry Bartelt et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
A longstanding problem in avalanche science is to understand why slow moving avalanches exert large pressures on buildings. To understand this phenomenon we propose that avalanche interaction with a rigid structure must be divided into two separate regimes: a flow regime and a pile-up regime. In the flow regime, snow does not accumulate behind the obstacle. We show why the accumulation of avalanche snow behind a structure can lead to immense forces that must be considered in mitigation.
A longstanding problem in avalanche science is to understand why slow moving avalanches exert...