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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© 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.

Submitted as: research article 23 May 2019

Submitted as: research article | 23 May 2019

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

Micromechanical modeling of snow failure

Grégoire Bobillier1, Bastian Bergfeld1, Achille Capelli1, Jürg Dual2, Johan Gaume1,3, Alec van Herwijnen1, and Jürg Schweizer1 Grégoire Bobillier et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland
  • 2Institute for Mechanical Systems, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3SLAB Snow and Avalanche Simulation Laboratory, EPFL Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland

Abstract. Dry-snow slab avalanches start with the formation of a local failure in a highly porous weak layer underlying a cohesive snow slab. If followed by rapid crack propagation within the weak layer and finally a tensile fracture through the slab appears, a slab avalanche releases. While the basic concepts of avalanche release are relatively well understood, performing fracture experiments in the lab or in the field can be difficult due to the fragile nature of weak snow layers. Numerical simulations are a valuable tool for the study of micromechanical processes that lead to failure in snow. We used a three-dimensional discrete element method (3D-DEM) to simulate and analyze failure processes in snow. Cohesive and cohesionless ballistic deposition allowed us to reproduce porous weak layers and dense cohesive snow slabs, respectively. To analyze the micromechanical behavior at the scale of the snowpack (~ 1 m), the particle size was chosen as a compromise between a low computational cost and a detailed representation of important micromechanical processes. The 3D-DEM snow model allowed reproducing the macroscopic behavior observed during compression and mixed-modes loading of dry snow slab and weak snow layer. To be able to reproduce the range of snow behavior (elastic modulus, strength), relations between DEM particle/contact parameters and macroscopic behavior were established. Numerical load-controlled failure experiments were performed on small samples and compared to results from load-controlled laboratory tests. Overall, our results show that the discrete element method allows to realistically simulate snow failure processes. Furthermore, the presented snow model seems appropriate for comprehensively studying how the mechanical properties of slab and weak layer influence crack propagation preceding avalanche release.

Grégoire Bobillier et al.
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Grégoire Bobillier et al.
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