The Norwegian parliament determined in 1972 that state-financed research in connection with avalanches would be the responsibility of NGI. Avalanche research is now financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and the funding is received via the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate who is responsible for issues related to avalanches and slides in Norway.
Avalanche research areas
Ongoing avalanche research projects are a continuation of projects that have been conducted since the 1970s. NGI's present research initiatives are:
- Full-scale tests and avalanche measurement at Ryggfonn
- Analysis, modelling and calculation of run out distance and forces relating to avalanches
- Risk zone assessment - methods for assessing avalanche-prone areas
- Avalanche risk alerts - new methods for avalanche alerts and emergency response routines
- Avalanche safety measures, such as avalanche dams and screens.
The plan for NGI's avalanche research applies for three years at a time (present plan: 2014–2016). The current project period is focusing on the development of innovative statistical methods for avalanche alerts and hazard assessment, full scale tests in Ryggfonn, and slush avalanches.
Three focus areas:
- Improvements to risk zone assessment for avalanches through experiments in Ryggfonn (WP1), study of special avalanche incidents (WP4) and the development of better run out models (WP1)
- Statistical methods for avalanche alerts and risk zone assessment (WP2)
- Improved alerts and assessment of slush avalanches (WP3).
Physical experiments will achieve additional value by repeating the tests in that the general characteristics of the physical processes can be identified. Full-scale research into avalanches permit, on average, one experiment per year. Thus the total number of tests is very limited, even after 40 years. However, one or two avalanches that are ideal for data collection can help answer many open questions. It is therefore crucial that the test field is continuously maintained so that the experiments can yield the desired results.
Internationally recognised avalanche research has been conducted in Norway for more than 40 years. Our full-scale test field at Ryggfonn is unique in the world and provides opportunities to study trigger factors, avalanche dynamics and the effects of the catching dam in the avalanche channel's run out area.
The test field has provided many significant results, which are presented in international publications and conferences. Collaboration with researchers from other countries, and especially with the SLF, which has a test field in Vallée de la Sionne in Switzerland, has contributed to vital exchanges of ideas and data, ensuring that the development of avalanche models can take into account the results from multiple avalanche paths with different climatic conditions.
Local knowledge and experience
In order to assess the causal relationship and degree of avalanche risk, avalanche experts must procure information on snow cover, terrain formation (topography), meteorological conditions in the relevant area, both historically and in future forecasts. The structure and variation of the snow cover are observed and classified in accordance with standardised tests. Much of this work is done at Fonnbu, NGI's avalanche station in Strynefjellet, close to Ryggfonn.
Observations of innumerable avalanches over the years, studies of the relationships between snow cover structure, meteorological data and types of terrain form the basis of NGI's development of methods, and not least, experience, in assessing avalanche risk, run out distance of potential avalanches and the design of avalanche safety methods.