Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 8, 433–443, 2008

Special issue: Tree-ring reconstructions in natural hazards research

Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 8, 433–443, 2008

  08 May 2008

08 May 2008

Validating numerical simulations of snow avalanches using dendrochronology: the Cerro Ventana event in Northern Patagonia, Argentina

A. Casteller2,1, M. Christen2, R. Villalba1, H. Martínez3, V. Stöckli2, J. C. Leiva1, and P. Bartelt2 A. Casteller et al.
  • 1Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales IANIGLA, CCT Mendoza, CONICET, C.C. 330, 5500 Mendoza, Argentina
  • 2WSL, Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Flüelastrasse 11, CH-7260 Davos Dorf, Switzerland
  • 3IDEPRN, Facultad de Ingeniería UNCuyo, CONICET, C.C. 405, 5500 Mendoza, Argentina

Abstract. The damage caused by snow avalanches to property and human lives is underestimated in many regions around the world, especially where this natural hazard remains poorly documented. One such region is the Argentinean Andes, where numerous settlements are threatened almost every winter by large snow avalanches. On 1 September 2002, the largest tragedy in the history of Argentinean mountaineering took place at Cerro Ventana, Northern Patagonia: nine persons were killed and seven others injured by a snow avalanche. In this paper, we combine both numerical modeling and dendrochronological investigations to reconstruct this event. Using information released by local governmental authorities and compiled in the field, the avalanche event was numerically simulated using the avalanche dynamics programs AVAL-1D and RAMMS. Avalanche characteristics, such as extent and date were determined using dendrochronological techniques. Model simulation results were compared with documentary and tree-ring evidences for the 2002 event. Our results show a good agreement between the simulated projection of the avalanche and its reconstructed extent using tree-ring records. Differences between the observed and the simulated avalanche, principally related to the snow height deposition in the run-out zone, are mostly attributed to the low resolution of the digital elevation model used to represent the valley topography. The main contributions of this study are (1) to provide the first calibration of numerical avalanche models for the Patagonian Andes and (2) to highlight the potential of Nothofagus pumilio tree-ring records to reconstruct past snow-avalanche events in time and space. Future research should focus on testing this combined approach in other forested regions of the Andes.