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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 18 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 18 Nov 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS).

Quantifying seasonal cornice dynamics using a terrestrial laser scanner in Svalbard, Norway

Holt Hancock1,2, Markus Eckerstorfer3, Alexander Prokop4,5,1, and Jordy Hendrikx6 Holt Hancock et al.
  • 1Department of Arctic Geology, University Centre in Svalbard, N-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway
  • 2Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, N-0371 Oslo, Norway
  • 3Earth Observation Group, NORCE, N-9294 Tromsø, Norway
  • 4Department of Geodynamics and Sedimentology, University of Vienna, 1090 Vienna, Austria
  • 5Snow Scan GmbH, Research, Engineering, Education, Stadlauerstrasse 31, 1220 Vienna, Austria
  • 6Snow and Avalanche Lab, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, 59717 Bozeman, Montana, USA

Abstract. Snow cornices develop along mountain ridges, edges of plateaus, and marked inflections in topography throughout regions with seasonal and permanent snow cover. Despite the recognized hazard posed by cornices in mountainous locations, limited modern research on cornice dynamics exists and accurately forecasting cornice failure continues to be problematic. Cornice failures and associated cornice fall avalanches comprise a majority of observed avalanche activity and endanger human life and infrastructure annually near Longyearbyen in central Svalbard, Norway. In this work, we monitored the seasonal development of the cornices along the plateaus near Longyearbyen with a terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) during the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 winter seasons. The spatial resolution at which we acquired snow surface data with TLS enabled us to observe and quantify changes to the cornice systems in detail not previously achieved. We focused primarily on the evolution and failure of the lower cornice surfaces where accessibility has precluded previous research. We measured cornice accretion rates in excess of 10 mm hr−1 during several accretion events coinciding with winter storms. We observed five cornice fall avalanche events following periods of cornice accretion and one event following a warm period with mid-winter rain. The results of our investigation provide quantitative reinforcement to existing conceptual models of cornice dynamics and illustrate cornice response to specific meteorological events. Our results demonstrate the utility of TLS for monitoring cornice processes and as a viable method for quantitative cornice studies in this and other locations where cornices are of scientific or operational interest.

Holt Hancock et al.
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Short summary
This work uses terrestrial laser scanning techniques to monitor and quantify changes to snow cornices near Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway with sub-decimeter accuracy. Our findings illustrate how complex interactions between topography and meteorological conditions govern the growth, failure, and associated avalanche activity of the cornices in this location. These findings can help improve forecasting of snow cornice related hazards in this and other locations exposed to snow cornice hazards.
This work uses terrestrial laser scanning techniques to monitor and quantify changes to snow...