Articles | Volume 9, issue 5
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 1599–1612, 2009

Special issue: Tree-ring reconstructions in natural hazards research

Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 1599–1612, 2009

  28 Sep 2009

28 Sep 2009

Reconstructing snow avalanches in the Southeastern Pyrenees

E. Muntán1, C. García2, P. Oller2, G. Martí2, A. García3, and E. Gutiérrez1 E. Muntán et al.
  • 1Dendroecology, Department of Ecology, University of Barcelona, Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
  • 2Geological Hazards Unit, Geological Institute of Catalonia, Balmes 209–211, 08006 Barcelona, Spain
  • 3Group of Climatology, Department of Physical Geography and Regional Geographical Analysis, University of Barcelona, Montalegre 6, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

Abstract. A regional study of snow avalanche processes was undertaken in the SE Pyrenees. Dendrogeomorphology was used to date and reconstruct large-scale snow avalanche events that occurred in the last four decades. Dendrochronological analyses yielded the dates of nine winters when avalanches occurred in the recent past in six studied avalanche paths. Some of these avalanches were already known, but others had not been documented. In one case, the existing avalanche path map was improved with the dendrogeomorphological information of a larger past event. As a result of the dendrogeomorphological analyses, evidence for three regional-scale major avalanche years was identified in the SE Pyrenees from 1971 to 2004: 1971–1972, 1995–1996 and 2002–2003. The specific synoptic atmospheric situations and the most likely nivometeorological and snowpack conditions that released these major avalanches were determined using weather data for the seasons of major avalanche releases. In 1971–1972 the snow avalanche episode was characterized by a deep trough crossing the Pyrenees. In 1995–1996 a variety of meteorological situations produced several episodes of major avalanches. In 2002–2003 the more significant of two episodes was attributed to a north advection pumping an arctic air mass over the Pyrenees. The 1995–1996 avalanche season proved to be the most notable in the four past decades in the Pyrenees.