Snow mass quantification and avalanche victim research by ground penetrating radar
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- NGI articles 
Ground penetrating radar (GPR) systems can be used in many applications of snow and ice research. The information from the GPR is used to identify and interpret layers, objects and different structures in the snow. A commercially available GPR system was further developed to work in the rough environment of snow and ice. The applied GPR is a 900 MHz system that easily reaches snow depths of up to 10 meters. The system was calibrated in the course of several manual snow depth measurements during each survey. The depth resolution depends on the snow type and is around ±0.1 m. The GPR system is carried alongside a line of interest and is triggered by an odometer wheel at regular adjustable steps. All equipment is mounted in a sledge and is pulled by a snowmobile over the snow surface. This setup allows for an efficient coverage of several kilometers of terrain profiles. The radar profiles give a real time two-dimensional impression of structures and objects and the interface between snow and the underlying ground. The actual radar profile is shown on a screen on the sledge allowing the immediate marking of objects and structures. During the past three years the instrument was successfully used for the study of snow distributions, for the detection of glacier crevasses under the snow cover, and for the search of avalanche victims in avalanche debris. The results show the capability of the instrument to detect persons and objects in the snow cover. In the future, this device may be a new tool for avalanche rescue operations. Today, the size and weight of the system prevents the accessing of very steep slopes and areas not accessible to snowmobiles. Further developments will decrease the size of the system and make it a valuable tool to quantify snow masses in avalanche release zones and run-out areas.