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Francis Meloche


Master student

Department of biology, chemistry and geography, UQAR

Des Ursulines Building
300 Allée des Ursulines
Quebec, Canada
G5L 3A1

418.723.1986 extension 1052




Research project

Spatial variability of snowpack properties and application of SNOWPACK model in an operational avalanche forecasting context, Gaspésie, Canada

Summary of the project
Since 2002, avalanche forecasts are released for the skiing area of the Chic-Chocs mountain range by Avalanche Québec. Since 2004, the organization expanded his services to avalanche prone slopes on provincial road 132 and 198 of northern Gaspésie. The goal is to set up an operational avalanche forecasting system for the ministère des Transports, de la Mobilité durable et de l'Électrification des transport (MTMDET). The weather conditions differs between the two main sectors of operation. One of the biggest challenge in avalanche forecasting is to assess the spatial variability of snowpack properties in order to evaluate the stability of a slope. No study has focussed on the spatial variability of the meteorological conditions between these areas and its effects on the snowpack properties. The absence of knowledge in the area makes the forecasting complex.

The principal objective is to assess the spatial variability of snowpack properties for the two operational areas of Avalanche Québec. The spatial variability will be described on a seasonal winter scale and following two spatial scales: 1) regional scale (inter-site), between slopes along the roads in northern Gaspésie and the Chic-Chocs mountain range; and 2) slope scale (intra-site). The main objective will be acheived by focussing on the following three specific objectives:
1) Characterise the microclimatic conditions over each slopes for the two study area;
2) Explain the spatial variability of snowpack properties;
3) Evaluate the SNOWPACK model to simulate the snowpack properties in different microclimatic contexts.

Two winters of data collection has been planned with Avalanche Québec. Six avalanche slopes will be studied and snowpack properties will be analyzed. These slopes have been chosen to represent the climatic conditions of the two study areas. A network of weather stations and surveillance cameras has been installed to characterize the microclimatic conditions, to document the snow cover and the occurrence of avalanches. Field surveys will be achieved systematically each month. Manual snow profile will be used to describe the snowpack properties. The spatial variability of each study site will be estimated by measuring the penetration resistance of the snow with a numerical penetrometer (Smartprobe2, Avatech). Geostatistical analysis will be used to explain snowpack properties at regional scale and to estimate the spatial variability of weak layer at local scale. Finally, the snowpack properties will be simulated using the SNOWPACK model and validated with the snow profiles. The performance of the model will be tested and adapted to the different microclimatic contexts. Ultimately, the model will be integrated into an avalanche operational forecasting system.

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