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Sixty Years of Snow Avalanches in the Northern French Alps

Eckert, N., Parent, E., Kies, R. and Baya, H. 2010. A spatio-temporal modelling framework for assessing the fluctuations of avalanche occurrence resulting from climate change: application to 60 years of data in the northern French Alps. Climatic Change 101: 515-553.
Authors Eckert et al. (2010) write as background for their study that, in general, "understanding the response of dangerous natural phenomena to variations in corresponding constraining factors can reveal signals of climate change," and, more specifically, they state that "since snow avalanches are mainly governed by temperature fluctuations, heavy precipitation and wind regimes, they are likely to be strongly influenced by climatic fluctuations," such as the IPCC contends is already occurring with a whole host of catastrophic weather-related phenomena, as a result of the global warming of the past several decades.

For their analysis, Eckert et al. compared a number of different ways of analyzing snow avalanche data contained in the Enquete Permanente sur les Avalanches -- EPA, which they say "is a chronicle describing the avalanche events on approximately 5,000 determined paths in the French Alps and the Pyrenees."

The four researchers report that after they had essentially analyzed the data to death, they could find "no strong modifications in mean avalanche activity or in the number of winters of low or high activity over the last 60 years." In addition, they say that "a similar result was obtained for Switzerland over the second half of the twentieth century by Laternser and Schneebeli (2002) using avalanche indexes and comparison with meteorological data." They also report that "Schneebeli et al. (1997) and Bader and Kunz (2000) have seen no change in extreme snowfalls and in the associated number of catastrophic avalanches around Davos, Switzerland during the twentieth century," and that "in the Maurienne Valley in France, Jomelli et al. (2007) found no correlation between the fluctuations in avalanche activity between 1978 and 2003 and large-scale atmospheric patterns." And in one final study that had a slightly different result, they note that Jomelli and Pech (2004) "suggest that at low altitudes, avalanche magnitude has declined since 1650 in the Massif des Ecrins in the French Alps."

After considering all they had learned from their many analyses and the works of the other scientists they cited, Eckert et al. concluded that "climate change has recently had little impact on the avalanching rhythm in this region."

Additional References
Baker, S. and Kunz, P. 2000. Climate Risks -- The Challenge for Alpine Region -- PNR31. Ed. by Zurich: vdf Hochschuverlag AG an der ETH Zurich, 291p.

Jomelli, V. and Pech, P. 2004. Effects of the little ice age on avalanche boulder tongues in the French Alps (Massif des Ecrins). Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 29: 553-564.

Jomelli, V., Delval, C., Grancher, D., Escande, S., Brunstein, D., Hetu, B., Filion, L. and Pech, P. 2007. Probabilistic analysis of recent snow avalanche activity and climate in the French Alps. Cold Regions Science and Technology 47: 180-192.

Laternser, M. and Schneebeli, M. 2002. Temporal trend and spatial distribution of avalanche activity during the last 50 years in Switzerland. Natural Hazards 27: 201-230.

Schneebeli, M., Laternser, M. and Ammann, W. 1997. Destructive snow avalanches and climate change in the Swiss Alps. Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae 90: 457-461.

Archived 1 December 2010