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GE448 Snow science and avalanches

Course description for academic year 2020/2021

Contents and structure

The course covers the processes leading to formation of layers in the snowpack, and focuses especially on avalanches as a geohazard. In addition, the course studies the physics behind the avalanche formation processes, and measurement methods used to describe and evaluate physical and mechanical snowpack properties.

1. Snowpack processes

a) Snow as precipitation

b) Snow on the ground

    i. Layering

    ii. Physical properties

    iii. Mechanical properties

    iv. Processes of snow metamorphosis

c) Measurement techniques

    i. Snow pit (layering, grain size, grain shape, hardness, density, humidity)

2. Avalanche formation

a) Stability of snowpack

b) Processes that influence snowpack stability

c) Fracture mechanics

d) The characteristics of spatial variables in the snowpack

e) Measurement techniques

    i. Stability tests

   ii. Shear test

3. Avalanche hazard evaluation and mitigation

a) General risk management approach

b) Hazard zoning

c) Avalanche dynamics, including modelling

d) Protection measures

e) Avalanche warning

f) Effects of climate change

Learning Outcome


Students will have/be able to:

  • Knowledge about how weather and climate influence snow distribution, from the microscale to the orogenic scale.
  • Insight into the physical processes that lead to the formation of snow in the atmosphere, and the metamorphism of snow on the ground.
  • Knowledge of different types of avalanches, avalanche formation processes and measurement techniques for evaluating snowpack stability.
  • Knowledge of avalanche hazard evaluation and mitigation.


Students will have/be able to:

  • Evaluate a particular avalanche event, with respect to the underlying physical processes on the micro scale and macro scale
  • Apply conceptual and theoretical arguments in the discussion of the evolution of avalanche risk over short and long time scales, and as a result of changes in the climate
  • Analyse data from a broad range of relevant sources to address specific questions about the snowpack, avalanche hazards and the processes that connect them
  • Identify and utilize research results from avalanche science journals, and apply these to evaluate avalanche events and conduct avalanche hazard assessments

General competence

Students will have/be able to:

  • An understanding of the major topics, facts and issues related to snowpack and avalanche formation, and avalanche hazard evaluation and mitigation
  • Develop the necessary skills to undertake independent research both in the private sector and in academia
  • Read, analyse and present comprehensive, individual studies and utilize relevant scientific terminology.

Entry requirements


Recommended previous knowledge

The subject builds upon FY400 Introduction to Physics

Teaching methods


Group work

Field work

Compulsory learning activities



4 hour written exam .

Grades A-F.

Examination support material


More about examination support material

Course reductions

  • GE4-303 - Snø og snøskred - Reduction: 10 studypoints