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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 9, issue 5
The Cryosphere, 9, 1915-1932, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-9-1915-2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
The Cryosphere, 9, 1915-1932, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-9-1915-2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 08 Oct 2015

Research article | 08 Oct 2015

Modeling of crack propagation in weak snowpack layers using the discrete element method

J. Gaume1, A. van Herwijnen1, G. Chambon2,3, K. W. Birkeland4, and J. Schweizer1 J. Gaume et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland
  • 2Irstea, UR ETGR, Grenoble, France
  • 3Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble, France
  • 4USDA Forest Service National Avalanche Center, Bozeman, MT, USA

Abstract. Dry-snow slab avalanches are generally caused by a sequence of fracture processes including (1) failure initiation in a weak snow layer underlying a cohesive slab, (2) crack propagation within the weak layer and (3) tensile fracture through the slab which leads to its detachment. During the past decades, theoretical and experimental work has gradually led to a better understanding of the fracture process in snow involving the collapse of the structure in the weak layer during fracture. This now allows us to better model failure initiation and the onset of crack propagation, i.e., to estimate the critical length required for crack propagation. On the other hand, our understanding of dynamic crack propagation and fracture arrest propensity is still very limited.

To shed more light on this issue, we performed numerical propagation saw test (PST) experiments applying the discrete element (DE) method and compared the numerical results with field measurements based on particle tracking. The goal is to investigate the influence of weak layer failure and the mechanical properties of the slab on crack propagation and fracture arrest propensity. Crack propagation speeds and distances before fracture arrest were derived from the DE simulations for different snowpack configurations and mechanical properties. Then, in order to compare the numerical and experimental results, the slab mechanical properties (Young's modulus and strength) which are not measured in the field were derived from density. The simulations nicely reproduced the process of crack propagation observed in field PSTs. Finally, the mechanical processes at play were analyzed in depth which led to suggestions for minimum column length in field PSTs.

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We proposed a new approach to characterize the dynamic phase of crack propagation in weak snowpack layers as well as fracture arrest propensity by means of numerical "propagation saw test" simulations based on the discrete element method. Crack propagation speed and distance before fracture arrest were derived from the simulations for different snowpack configurations and mechanical properties. Numerical and experimental results were compared and the mechanical processes at play were discussed.
We proposed a new approach to characterize the dynamic phase of crack propagation in weak...
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