Articles | Volume 2, issue 3/4
31 Dec 2002
31 Dec 2002

Snow drift: acoustic sensors for avalanche warning and research

M. Lehning, F. Naaim, M. Naaim, B. Brabec, J. Doorschot, Y. Durand, G. Guyomarc’h, J.-L. Michaux, and M. Zimmerli

Abstract. Based on wind tunnel measurements at the CSTB (Jules Verne) facility in Nantes and based on field observations at the SLF experimental site Versuchsfeld Weissfluhjoch, two acoustic wind drift sensors are evaluated against different mechanical snow traps and one optical snow particle counter. The focus of the work is the suitability of the acoustic sensors for applications such as avalanche warning and research. Although the acoustic sensors have not yet reached the accuracy required for typical research applications, they can, however, be useful for snow drift monitoring to help avalanche forecasters. The main problem of the acoustic sensors is a difficult calibration that has to take into account the variable snow properties. Further difficulties arise from snow fall and high wind speeds. However, the sensor is robust and can be operated remotely under harsh conditions. It is emphasized that due to the lack of an accurate reference method for snow drift measurements, all sensors play a role in improving and evaluating snow drift models. Finally, current operational snow drift models and snow drift sensors are compared with respect to their usefulness as an aid for avalanche warning. While drift sensors always make a point measurement, the models are able to give a more representative drift index that is valid for a larger area. Therefore, models have the potential to replace difficult observations such as snow drift in operational applications. Current models on snow drift are either only applicable in flat terrain, are still too complex for an operational application (Lehning et al., 2000b), or offer only limited information on snow drift, such as the SNOWPACK drift index (Lehning et al., 2000a). On the other hand, snow drift is also difficult to measure. While mechanical traps (Mellor 1960; Budd et al., 1966) are probably still the best reference, they require more or less continuous manual operation and are thus not suitable for remote locations or long-term monitoring. Optical sensors (Schmidt, 1977; Brown and Pomeroy, 1989; Sato and Kimura, 1993) have been very successful for research applications, but suffer from the fact that they give a single flux value at one specific height. In addition, they have not been used, to our knowledge, for long-term monitoring applications or at remote sites. New developments of acoustic sensors have taken place recently (Chritin et al., 1999; Font et al., 1998). Jaedicke (2001) gives examples of possible applications of acoustic snow drift sensors. He emphasizes the advantages of acoustic sensors for snow drift monitoring at remote locations, but could not present any evaluation of the accuracy of the measurements. We present a complete evaluation of the new acoustic sensors for snow drift and discuss their applications for research or avalanche warning. We compare the suitability of sensors for operational applications.