EU project leads to improvements in avalanche assessment and protection

September 5, 2003

Brussels, 04 Sep 2003

EU funded collaboration between scientists in six European countries has led to the development of more accurate methods for predicting the impact of catastrophic avalanches.

The CADZIE project received nearly 700,000 euro funding under the energy, environment and sustainable development section of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). The initiative brought together researchers from France, Italy, Norway, Austria, Iceland and Switzerland, under the coordination of the Cemagref institute in Grenoble, France.

CADZIE project coordinator, Cemagref's Mohamed Naaim, told CORDIS News: 'The initiative was created in response to the extreme avalanche winter of 1999, during which 83 people were killed across Europe, including the loss of 11 lives in one avalanche alone in Chamonix, France, which destroyed a housing complex.'

Mr Naaim went on to explain that avalanche protection relies on two key processes: the mapping, or zoning, of exposed areas, and the building of defence structures to stop or contain their flow. The team, therefore, set out to investigate these two areas in order improve overall protection methods.

Traditionally, avalanche zoning is based entirely on observations of the traces left by previous slides and the recollections of local inhabitants. However, this method fails to take into account the many variables that can affect the impact of an avalanche, such as snow depth and quality, climatic conditions, and the existence of natural or man made barriers.

Therefore, each project partner provided data from well documented avalanches in their own country, which was then incorporated into a common database. The data was then used to validate various avalanche zoning techniques, and using a statistical approach, it was possible to produce zoning models that took into account the specific conditions in any given area. The model also provides users with an index of its reliability.

The second part of the project involved an investigation into the effects of defence structures on full scale avalanches. This included numerical simulations of flows around different types of structures, the development of physical laws to represent these flows, and the creation of digital maps with which defence structures could be simulated and their effects on flows predicted.

The team's final and ongoing task is to disseminate the results and tools created during the CADZIE project to engineers, planners and local and national authorities. This has led to the adoption of CADZIE methodologies by building regulation authorities in Italy, France, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, and in some Alpine areas, has resulted in a reassessment of avalanche evacuation plans.

Mr Naaim highlighted the importance of international cooperation and EU funding in achieving these results, saying: 'Those of us involved in avalanche research in Europe work within small teams and with limited resources. Collaboration between us was essential in order to progress overall EU competence, and without the support of the European Commission, the work we have done would have been difficult to achieve.'

Indeed, the project's success has led to the creation of a second EU initiative, funded under the same FP5 programme, entitled SATSIE. The aim is to further improve the characterisation of avalanche flows through the use of large scale, high mountain test sites being constructed in France, Italy, Norway and Iceland.

Mr Naaim would like to see such partnerships continue in the future. 'We hope to secure funding for more projects under the Sixth Framework Programme,' he concluded.

For further information, please consult the following web address:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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