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

 

At first glance, snow may appear to be simply a homogeneous, white mass that covers the landscape in winter. But examined more closely, it is actually a complex and constantly changing material. This change in snow, known as 'snow metamorphism', is investigated in our cold laboratories using state-of-the-art measuring methods. This helps us to better understand how and when avalanches develop. However, it is not only avalanches that pose a threat to people and infrastructure: melting snow can also be dangerous if it contributes to the formation of floods. Yet snow is also an important economic resource. Whether for winter sports or as a source of water for the energy industry, it is an integral part of life in many regions.

 

Snow and climate

Snow is often near its melting point in normal winter temperatures. As a result, snowpack is sensitive to climate changes. Higher temperatures or changes in precipitation levels lead to changes in the extent, thickness and density of the snowpack. Thanks to many years of measurements, we are able to identify these changes. More recently, we have increasingly been supplementing ground measurements with remote sensing data from satellites, aircraft and drones, which also provides information on the large-scale distribution of the snowpack. Snowpack influences the global climate, for example by changing the Earth's radiation balance.

At the SLF we investigate all aspects of snow using measuring methods that have proved themselves over decades as well as state-of-the-art measurement instruments, many of which we develop ourselves or adapt to the special requirements of snow research. Our measurements are carried out in laboratories and on test sites in the Davos region, but also throughout Switzerland and even worldwide, for example in Greenland or the Antarctic.

 

 

 

Topics

Ganz links ein einzelner, verzweigter Schneestern, der unter einem Mikroskop fotografiert wurde. Das Bild in der Mitte zeigt ein Messraster auf dem mehrere Neuschneekristalle liegen. Ganz rechts eine dreidimensionale, stark vergrösserte Darstellung von Neuschnee, der in einem Computertomographen gescannt wurde.

Snow as a material

We investigate the microstructure of snow in order to understand the processes of avalanche formation.

Unter dem hellblauen Himmel erstreckt sich eine schneebedeckte Gebirgslandschaft. Vereinzelt ragen Felsen durch den Schnee.

Snowpack

Snowpack plays a key role in local climate and water storage in alpine regions, as well as in avalanche formation.

Gebirgsbach während der Schneeschmelze. Der Talboden ist noch von einer dicken Schneeschicht bedeckt. In der Mitte des Bildes hat der reissende, graugefärbte Bach bereits ein Loch in die Schneedecke gerissen. Man sieht wie ein Schneeblock vom Wasser davongetragen wird.

Snow as a water resource

Snow hydrology determines how much snow accumulates where, and when it melts, which benefits both hydropower plants and flood warning systems.

Das Bild zeigt ein alpines Skigebiet in herbstlichen Farben. Nur rund um die Schneelanzen ist der Boden bereits weiss und lässt den Verlauf der Pistenlinie erahnen.

Snow and climate change

Snow cover duration and maximum snow depths are declining in the Alps, due to more frequent rainfall instead of snow and an earlier snow melt.

Das Bild zeigt ein Skigebiet. Im Hintergrund ist ein Lift zu sehen. Davor eine ausgesteckte Slalomstrecke. Im Vordergrund sieht man eine Person bei einer Testfahrt, die in der Hocke langsam zum Stehen kommt.

Snow sports

Nowadays, success in snow sports depends on more than the athletes' performance. The material and knowledge of the snow are important factors too.

Im Hintergrund ist eine entfernte Bergkette zu sehen. Im Vordergrund ragt das obere Ende einer Klimatstation in den Himmel. Ganz oben befindet sich eine Person, die mit der Wartung der Messstation beschäftigt ist.

Snow data

Our longterm snow measurements provide the basis for our avalanche bulletins as well as long-term climatological analyses.

 

New

The new issue of WSL’s magazine Diagonal focuses on networks – both in nature and in science.

Everything worth knowing about last year's snow

Snow Science Winter School

A field-based training course on snow measurement techniques will take place at Hailuoto (FI) from 17 to 23 February 2019. Apply now.

SLF guest scientist Franziska Gerber will spend three weeks at a Russian research station. Read updates on the blog “Out There”.