Lidar Surveys Guide Avalanche Predictions

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Lidar Surveys Inform Avalanche Prediction

In a low-flying helicopter, Gabriel Wolken is scanning the steep hillsides around southeast Alaska with a purpose. A research-grade laser mounted to the helicopter sends rapid pulses of light from the aircraft to the ground to measure the elevation of trees and the bare earth below. Like a price scanner registering elevation instead of barcodes, lidar surveys help to compile a detailed map of the features of the landscape—information that will be needed to determine snow depth from the air come winter.

From an article in Scientific American by Molly Tankersley.

Understanding snow patterns is a crucial part of Wolken’s work with the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, the State of Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Sciences and local partners to model avalanches past and future at sites around Alaska. Nowhere is this work more important than in the capital city of Juneau, which has the highest urban avalanche potential of any city in the country. Throughout southeast Alaska, steep topography and heavy winter snowfall can combine to create dangerous avalanche conditions. In Juneau, the risk of avalanches extends to residential neighborhoods, a harbor and major roadway, and the powerlines that connect to Juneau’s main hydroelectric power plant.

Despite Juneau’s susceptibility to avalanches, relatively little is known about the city’s long-term avalanche history. But there’s a feature on the landscape that remains to document events after avalanche debris has melted away—the hardy hemlock, spruce and cedar trees found in and bordering local avalanche paths have weathered decades, and in some cases centuries, of slides. This summer, University of Alaska Southeast professor Eran Hood, along with Wolken and Erich Peitzsch from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) led a team of researchers through seven major avalanche paths near key recreation and infrastructure sites in Juneau to collect samples of wood from trees impacted by avalanches.

For the complete article click here.

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