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EU-funded research: An avalanche of results

EU funded scientists have made a startling new discovery in the way avalanches occur, turning previously held theories on their head. This discovery, which was made in the framework of the TRIGS ('Triggering of instabilities in materials and geosystems') project, will undoubte...
EU-funded research: An avalanche of results
EU funded scientists have made a startling new discovery in the way avalanches occur, turning previously held theories on their head. This discovery, which was made in the framework of the TRIGS ('Triggering of instabilities in materials and geosystems') project, will undoubtedly lead to an avalanche of further research.

The main cause of avalanches, according to researchers led by a team at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, are fractures under the surface. These fractures are known as anti-cracks, and they cause the underlying layer of snow to crumble inwardly. In turn, the crumbling inner layers cause the upper layers to slide off, creating an avalanche.

Up until now, geologists believed that slab avalanches were caused by shear cracks. This is when one layer of snow slides off another. These avalanches are often triggered by skiers and are the cause of countless skiing accidents.

'Our discoveries complete a piece of the puzzle of how avalanches occur. We hope this will help to pinpoint dangerous tell-tale signs and so avoid unnecessary dangers to people on mountains,' commented Joachim Heierli, Research Associate at the Centre for Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. Dr Heierli and his colleagues published their findings in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Their research also has some serious implications for skiers and where they can ski. As a result of computer modelling undertaken by the research team, skiers moving over flat ground or across small slopes can no longer consider themselves entirely safe. This is because long-distance fracture propagation may trigger avalanches on overlying slopes.

The TRIGS project is funded under the NEST ('New and emerging science and technologies') part of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The EU provided over €1.6 million in funding for this project out of the €2.1 million total cost of the project.

TRIGS is the first ever project to use the tools of complex systems analysis to explore the triggering mechanisms of natural catastrophes such as avalanches, earthquakes and landslides. The members of this consortium come from diverse backgrounds such as complex systems, materials and earth sciences, and are all internationally recognised.

Source: University of Edinburgh; Science

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Record Number: 29653 / Last updated on: 2008-07-14
Category: Other
Provider: EC
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