Computer Models Aim to Keep Ahead of Snowslides

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Science  09 Apr 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5412, pp. 245-247
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5412.245

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DAVOS, SWITZERLAND-- This year's severe avalanche season in the Alps--the worst since 1951--revealed some key weak points in the numerical models developed by Switzerland's avalanche forecasters. Researchers hope that the wealth of data gleaned from this year's avalanches will help them refine their models, such as a computer simulation that, based on data on recent snowfalls and weather, can predict how likely the snowpack is to fracture and slide. They are also supplementing models of avalanche dynamics with more sophisticated "granular flow" models, which take into account the properties of the fast-moving granules in a flowing avalanche.