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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 27 Jun 2019

Research article | 27 Jun 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Where are the avalanches? Rapid mapping of a large snow avalanche period with optical satellites

Yves Bühler1,*, Elisabeth D. Hafner1,*, Benjamin Zweifel1, Mathias Zesiger2, and Holger Heisig2 Yves Bühler et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos Dorf, 7260, Switzerland
  • 2Federal Office of Topographyswisstopo, Wabern, 3084, Switzerland
  • *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. Accurate and timely information on avalanche occurrence are key for avalanche warning, crisis management and avalanche documentation. Today such information is mainly available at isolated locations provided by observers in the field. The achieved reliability considering accuracy, completeness and reliability of the reported avalanche events is limited. In this study we present the spatial continuous mapping of a large avalanche period in January 2018 covering the majority of the Swiss Alps (12’500 km2).

We tested different satellite sensors available for rapid mapping during a first avalanche period. Based on these experiences, we tasked SPOT6/7 data for data acquisition to cover the second, much larger avalanche period. We manually mapped the outlines of 18’737 individual avalanche events, applying image enhancement techniques to analyze regions in cast shadow as well as brightly illuminated ones. The resulting dataset of mapped avalanche outlines, having a unique completeness and reliability, is evaluated to produce maps of avalanche occurrence and avalanche size. We validated the mapping of the avalanche outlines using photographs acquired from helicopters just after the avalanche period.

This study demonstrates the applicability of optical, very high spatial resolution satellite data to map an exceptional avalanche period with very high completeness, accuracy and reliability over a large region. The generated avalanche data is of great value to validate avalanche bulletins, complete existing avalanche databases and for research applications by enabling meaningful statistics on important avalanche parameters.

Yves Bühler et al.
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Yves Bühler et al.
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Short summary
We manually map 18'737 avalanche outlines based on SPOT6 optical satellite imagery acquired in January 2018. This is the most complete and accurate avalanche documentation of a large avalanche period covering the big part of the Swiss Alps. This unique dataset can be applied for the validation of other remote sensing based avalanche mapping procedures and for the complementation of avalanche databases to improve hazard maps.
We manually map 18'737 avalanche outlines based on SPOT6 optical satellite imagery acquired in...