Researchers are powerless to prevent avalanches from happening but by developing better detection and response systems, they could potentially help save lives.
Boise State associate professors Dr. H.P. Marshall and Dr. Jeffrey Johnson in the Department of Geosciences, along with Dr. Sin Ming Loo, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, recently installed several low-frequency microphones for avalanche detection in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, to test the efficacy of three new avalanche detection systems.
“The goal is a system that will detect avalanches in real-time and alert the avalanche forecasters,” Marshall said.
Their research project is funded by a consortium of Department of Transportation avalanche forecasting offices across the western U.S., and is focused on development and testing of real-time avalanche detection for the mountain highway outside Salt Lake City, which provides access to the popular Alta and Snowbird ski resorts. During ski season, more than 10,000 vehicles per day navigate this corridor, which often must be closed in response to avalanche hazards.
Little Cottonwood Canyon is one of the most avalanche-prone highways in the U.S., making it a perfect test bed. Some of the team’s microphones have been installed in the air above the eventual snowpack, and some have been installed near the ground, below the eventual snowpack.
All three systems use the same approach – measuring sound at low frequencies. One infrasound system is used by Johnson in volcano research; one system was developed by Loo’s student research group to detect gun shots; and the third system is a low-cost approach designed by one of Johnson’s doctoral students.