Snow and Avalanche Dynamics

This course focus on the science of the key snow and avalanche processes. The course examines the meteorological background for snow in particular the snowfall and wind redistribution processes, and how the snow cover develops over varying temporal and spatial scales.

Students will consider all of the physical attributes of the snow cover from the local to the regional to the global setting, and place the seasonal snow cover in the wider cryospheric global context. The theoretical part of the course will introduce snow science basics, including a scientific understanding of the physical properties of the snowpack including the mechanical, radiative, thermal and hydrological properties. Students will learn how and why these properties behave in the ways that they do. We will examine issues related to spatial and temporal scales and implications for sampling. Finally there will be an emphasis on snow avalanches and snow dynamics including consideration of avalanche hazard mapping, run-out modelling, hazard mitigation and forecasting. This will provide knowledge and skills in current international best practice for snow avalanche management and mitigation.


The course has a specific focus on developing skills and knowledge about snow science and avalanche dynamics, and will be very strongly field based. The field classes will also be a rich setting for field based lectures and demonstrations. In the field we will develop skills to make efficient and robust data collection to a prescribed standard. This will include observations of snow crystal type, form, size, density, hardness, temperature as well as snow stability and snow water content tests. In the field documentation of the physical properties of the snowpack includes also the mechanical, radiative, thermal and hydrological properties, the snow stratigraphy, and learning how to conduct a series of snow stability, snow structure and snow water content observations and tests. Most of the field classes will be completed in different parts of the mountain landscape surrounding UNIS. We will also use the student housing as a case study to examine snow avalanche risk, estimate maximum run-out zones and impact pressures and consider mitigation options. This strong field component makes this course unique.


Seminars will deal with papers based on relevant field studies, to improve the understanding of processes, and current best practice. Discussions will concentrate on identifying the critical questions for future snow science research, and how procedures might be devised to address these questions.

Course details

Academic level(s)Master
Language of instructionEnglish
InstitutionUniversity Centre in Svalbard
Begin date-
End date-
Registration deadline15.10.2014
ECTS credits10.0
Field schoolNo
Fields of studyPhysical science (broad programmes)Earth science
Teaching placeSvalbard
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