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On snow stability interpretation of extended column test results

By 10. Juli 2020September 17th, 2021Wissenschaftliche Publikationen

Frank Techel, Kurt Winkler, Matthias Walcher, Alec van Herwijnen, and Jürg Schweizer

Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 1941–1953, 2020


Snow instability tests provide valuable information regarding the stability of the snowpack. Test results are key data used to prepare public avalanche forecasts. However, to include them into operational procedures, a quantitative interpretation scheme is needed. Whereas the interpretation of the rutschblock test (RB) is well established, a similar detailed classification for the extended column test (ECT) is lacking. Therefore, we develop a four-class stability interpretation scheme. Exploring a large data set of 1719 ECTs observed at 1226 sites, often performed together with a RB in the same snow pit, and corresponding slope stability information, we revisit the existing stability interpretations and suggest a more detailed classification. In addition, we consider the interpretation of cases when two ECTs were performed in the same snow pit. Our findings confirm previous research, namely that the crack propagation propensity is the most relevant ECT result and that the loading step required to initiate a crack is of secondary importance for stability assessment. The comparison with the RB showed that the ECT classifies slope stability less reliably than the RB. In some situations, performing a second ECT may be helpful when the first test did not indicate rather unstable or stable conditions. Finally, the data clearly show that false-unstable predictions of stability tests outnumber the correct-unstable predictions in an environment where overall unstable locations are rare.