Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2024-70
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2024-70
19 Apr 2024
 | 19 Apr 2024
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

Supershear crack propagation in snow slab avalanche release: new insights from numerical simulations and field measurements

Grégoire Bobillier, Bertil Trottet, Bastian Bergfeld, Ron Simenhois, Alec van Herwijnen, Jürg Schweizer, and Johan Gaume

Abstract. The release process of dry-snow slab avalanches begins with a localized failure within a porous, weak snow layer that lies beneath a cohesive slab. Subsequently, rapid crack propagation may occur within the weak layer, eventually leading to a tensile fracture across the slab, resulting, if the slope is steep enough, to its detachment and sliding. The dynamics of crack propagation is believed to influence the size of the release area. However, the relationship between crack propagation dynamics and avalanche size remains incompletely understood. Notably, crack propagation speeds estimated from avalanche video analysis are almost one order of magnitude larger than speeds typically measured in field experiments. To shed more light on this discrepancy and avalanche release processes, we used discrete (DEM: discrete element method) and continuum (MPM: material point method) numerical methods to simulate the so-called propagation saw test (PST). On low angle terrain, our models showed that the weak layer failed mainly due to a compressive stress peak at the crack tip induced by weak layer collapse and the resulting slab bending. On steep slopes, we observed the emergence of a supershear crack propagation regime: the crack speed becomes higher than the slab shear wave speed. This transition occurs if the crack propagates over a distance larger than the super-critical crack length (approximately 5 m). Above the super-critical crack length, the fracture is mainly driven by the slope-parallel gravitational pull of the slab (tension) and, thus, shear stresses in the weak layer. These findings represent an essential additional piece in the dry-snow slab avalanche formation puzzle.

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Grégoire Bobillier, Bertil Trottet, Bastian Bergfeld, Ron Simenhois, Alec van Herwijnen, Jürg Schweizer, and Johan Gaume

Status: open (until 22 Jun 2024)

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Grégoire Bobillier, Bertil Trottet, Bastian Bergfeld, Ron Simenhois, Alec van Herwijnen, Jürg Schweizer, and Johan Gaume
Grégoire Bobillier, Bertil Trottet, Bastian Bergfeld, Ron Simenhois, Alec van Herwijnen, Jürg Schweizer, and Johan Gaume

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Short summary
Our study focuses on the initiation process of snow slab avalanches. By combining experimental data and numerical simulations, we show that on gentle slopes, a crack forms and propagates due to compression fracture within a weak layer, and on steep slopes, the crack velocity can increase dramatically after about 5 meters due to a fracture mode transition (compression to shear). Understanding these dynamics represents an essential additional piece in the dry-snow slab avalanche formation puzzle.
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