Articles | Volume 12, issue 5
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 1407–1423, 2012
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 1407–1423, 2012

Research article 11 May 2012

Research article | 11 May 2012

Wet-snow avalanche interaction with a deflecting dam: field observations and numerical simulations in a case study

B. Sovilla1, I. Sonatore1,2, Y. Bühler1, and S. Margreth1 B. Sovilla et al.
  • 1Warning and Prevention Research Unit, WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Flüelastrasse 11, Davos Dorf, 7260, Switzerland
  • 2Università degli Studi di Milano – Bicocca, Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche e Geotecnologie, Piazza della Scienza 4, Milano 20126, Italy

Abstract. In avalanche-prone areas, deflecting dams are widely used to divert avalanches away from endangered objects. In recent years, their effectiveness has been questioned when several large and multiple avalanches have overrun such dams.

In 2008, we were able to observe a large wet-snow avalanche, characterized by an high water content, that interacted with a deflecting dam and overflowed it at its lower end. To evaluate the dam's performance, we carried out an airborne laser scanning campaign immediately after the avalanche. This data, together with a video sequence made during the avalanche descent, provided a unique data set to study the dynamics of a wet dense snow avalanche and its flow behavior along a deflecting dam.

To evaluate the effect of the complex flow field of the avalanche along the dam and to provide a basis for discussion of the residual risk, we performed numerical simulations using a two-dimensional dense snow avalanche dynamics model with entrainment.

In comparison to dry dense snow avalanches, we found that wet-snow avalanches, with high water content, seem to be differently influenced by the local small-scale topography roughness. Rough terrain close to the dam deflected the flow to produce abrupt impacts with the dam. At the impact sites, instability waves were generated and increased the already large flow depths. The complex flow dynamics around the dam may produce large, local snow deposits. Furthermore, the high water content in the snow may decrease the avalanche internal friction angle, inducing wet-snow avalanches to spread further laterally than dry-snow avalanches.

Based on our analysis, we made recommendations for designing deflecting dams and for residual risk analysis to take into account the effects of wet-snow avalanche flow.