Can we learn more from the data underlying the statistical a-ß model with respect to the dynamical behavior of avalanches?
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Original versionCold Regions Science and Technology , 62(1), 42-54. doi:10.1016/j.coldregions.2010.02.001
Hazard and risk assessment in avalanche-prone areas involves estimation of runout distances of potential avalanches. Methods for determination of the runout may be divided into two categories: 1) methods based on statistical approaches such as the well known α–β model or 2) methods based on numerical avalanche models such as the PCM-model or VS-type models (just to name the more traditional ones). Methods in the second group have the advantage that besides the runout distance, velocity and impact pressure distributions along the avalanche track can also be obtained, this being a requisite for meaningful risk assessments. However, the predictive power of dynamical models depends on the use of appropriate rheological models and their parameters. In the statistical α–β model, the maximum runout distance is solely a function of topography. The runout distance equations were found by regression analysis, correlating the longest registered runout distance of several hundred avalanche paths with a selection of topographic parameters. In this paper, we re-evaluate Norwegian and Austrian avalanche data, which served as basis for the α–β model in the respective countries, and additional avalanche data with respect to dynamical measures. As most of those avalanche data originate more or less from extreme events (i.e. avalanches with return periods of the order of 100 years), the dynamical measures may give hints about an appropriate rheology for dynamical models suitable for extreme avalanche events. The analysis raises reasonable doubt whether the classical ansatz for the retarding acceleration of snow avalanches with additive terms involving Coulomb-friction and a velocity-squared dependency, which is used in many avalanche models, is adequate for a physically-based model. Back-calculations of runout distances using a simple block model show a discrepancy between commonly proposed parameter values (and of the underlying rheological models) and the observations.