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GE448 Snow science and avalanches

Course description for academic year 2022/2023

Contents and structure

The course content is divided into three modules: (1) snowpack processes, (2) avalanche formation and (3) avalanche hazard evaluation and mitigation. In the first module, students follow the snow on its way from the atmosphere to the ground with attention to processes leading to formation of layers in the snowpack. In the field, students get snow pit training and learn to differentiate layers in the snow with respect to grain size, grain shape, hardness, density and humidity. In the second module, students work with the physics behind snowpack stability and avalanche formation including snow mechanics and fracture mechanics. On one to two field days students evaluate snowpack instability and spatial variability through a variety of stability and shear tests. In the third and final module, students become familiar with the general risk management approach, avalanche forecasts, protection measures, hazard zoning including snow avalanche dynamics and modelling. Risk management approach and protection measures are exemplified during a one day field excursion.

Learning Outcome


Students will have:

  • 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 be able to:

  • evaluate a particular avalanche event, with respect to the underlying physical processes on the microscale and macroscale
  • 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 an understanding of the major topics, facts and issues related to snowpack and avalanche formation, as well as avalanche hazard evaluation and mitigation
  • be able to undertake independent research in the field of snow science both in the private sector and in academia

Entry requirements


Recommended previous knowledge

FY400 Introduction to Physics

Teaching methods

Lectures, group work and 3-4 days of field practice.

Compulsory learning activities

  • Participation in fieldwork (3-4 days)
  • Publication of field observations from field days on RegObs
  • Oral presentation during one of the field days
  • Discussion of 2 scientific papers


Written examination under supervision, 4 hours. Grades A-F.

Examination support material


More about examination support material

Course reductions

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