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Jacob Laliberté


Master student

Department of Applied Geomatics, Université de Sherbrooke

2500, boul. de l'Université
Université de Sherbrooke
Quebec, Canada
J1K 2R1





Research project

Ice crusts detection and simulation in a snowpack stability context and avalanche risk evaluation in the Chic Choc Mountains

Since 1990, it has been demonstrated that every year, avalanche is the deadliest winter natural hazard in Canada. The increase of interest in outdoor activities and the arrival of new alpine activities (snowmobile, ski-paragliding, backcountry skiing) increase the risk of accident while representing a larger use of the avalanche terrain. This is why the assessment of snow stability in an avalanche context is essential to public safety. As of now, it is possible to evaluate the avalanche risk by combining meteorological data and snowpack geophysics data. However, the current methods that are used (ski patrol) requires a lot of time, travel and the spatial coverage is limited. These limitations have brought the development of thermodynamic snow models to simulate the snowpack stratigraphy and stability.

The stability models are forced with meteorological data, which brings uncertainties such as 1) inaccurate or missing meteorological data; 2) lack of validation data and 3) models reaction to the actual alpine climate change. In that regard, considering the Chic Choc specific climatology and the actual warming, we notice an increase in the rain-on-snow events, creating ice crusts in the snowpack. These crusts are considered as weak layers that can lead to avalanche triggering.

The goal of this research is thus to improve the follow-up of the ice crusts with a continuous wave portable (FMCW) radar and to validate the capacity of SNOWPACK model to simulate these crusts.
Three specific objectives will allow us to reach the principal objective.
The first one is to develop an ice-crust detection methodology by radar backscattering in Ka band manually (fix mode).
The second one is to evaluate the possibility of detecting ice-crust from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with this same radar (mobile mode).
The third one is to evaluate the capacity of SNOWPACK model to simulate ice crusts by validating with radar and in-situ data.

The 300g radar will be mounted on a pole and will be used to take punctual data that will be compared to in-situ data. The initial goal is to develop an ice-crust detection algorithm and to understand the backscattering processes involved. Once the algorithm is developed, the radar will be mounted on a UAV to cover a larger area and investigate the possibility of crust detection remotely. Finally, to evaluate the capacity of SNOWPACK model to simulate ice crusts, we will need to select a period and compare the results given by SNOWPACK with the ones obtained with the radar. It will then be possible to answer the initial question: Does the SNOWPACK model is able to simulate the ice crusts precisely?

In brief, all the three objectives focus on the ice crusts detection, either at the temporal evolution level (objective 1, fix mode), spatial level (objective 2, mobile mode) or spatio-temporal level (objective 3, simulation). Either way, snowpack geophysical properties data will have to be measured during winter field campaigns with our partner Avalanche Quebec in Gaspésie. Two sites will be visited; the Chic Choc Mountains and the Ministry of Transport of Quebec (MTQ) sites on the roads 132 and 198 in the north of Gaspésie.

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