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Snow and Permafrost

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Head:Dr. Martin Schneebeli

The Research Unit investigates the physical properties of snow, soil and permafrost and the surface exchange with the atmosphere in order to understand the formation of natural hazards such as avalanches, floods and slope instabilities and the interaction of the cryosphere with climate change.

Micro-structural snow research provides a basis for understanding the macro-level behaviour of snow cover, such as avalanche formation, water transport and snow interaction with vehicles and sport tools. This research contributes, therefore, to our understanding of the influence of snow and wet or frozen soil on natural hazard generation and on the earth’s climate, and of how global climate change affects alpine permafrost.

The experimental methodologies employed by this Research Unit range from using laboratories (CT-Scanning, wind tunnel) to field-scale test sites. A primary output of this research is to improve current community models for climate change analysis and warning applications and to create new models.

The unit has its partners and stakeholders in warning and local safety services, the cryospheric scientific community and industry. It collaborates with institutes from EPFL and ETHZ, meteorological and engineering university institutes worldwide, research organizations and the high performance computing community.




Highly complex material, natural hazard, economic resource or part of the global climate system – at the SLF we investigate all these aspects of snow.

Cold chambers

Snow in 3D – with the aid of computed tomography in the cold laboratory, nowadays we can not only scan snow, but also reconstruct its...


The term ‘permafrost’ refers to permanently frozen ground. If it thaws, there is a risk of natural hazards like rockfalls or debris flows.