Over thirty years of experience and hundreds of installations at high altitude: CAE's commitment from snow knowledge to avalanche risk mitigation
For more than thirty years, CAE has gained a great experience in the field of snow measurement; as a matter of fact, the first nivo-meteorological stations were installed in 1984 to be used by the Avalanche Centre of Arabba (BL).
The nivometric monitoring has different facets and purposes, but generally it combines the main meteorological measures to the detection of specific measurements such as the height of the snowpack on the ground, the temperature at different heights from the ground and the amount of snowfall deposited on the ground.
Sites are usually identified by the customers according to their specific purpose. If the aim is to prevent the risk of avalanches, the sites are chosen by taking into account any events that have occurred in the past and must be representative of more or less large areas, therefore they must not be too subject to accumulation or exposed to strong winds that could make the measure not significant. On the other hand, if the purpose is to better manage the road conditions in case of snow, the site is identified on the basis of operational criteria in order to indicate the accumulation in certain sensitive areas, even if the snow measurement obtained in this case is not absolutely correct from a scientific point of view.
The installations are designed ad hoc in order to meet the most specific needs of the customer, as it has happened for example in the Region of Piedmont where platform poles have been installed, with balconies that allow you to set the station and the sensors in an easily accessible area, even after heavy snowfall. Moreover, apart from the required customizations, the sites are naturally designed according to the WMO guidelines.
Typically, in addition to the classic measures of temperature, wind direction, wind speed and precipitation, which provide useful parameters to understand the snowpack and its accumulation, the nivometric installations implemented by CAE include:
- ULM30/N Snow gauge: it measures the level of snow settled on the ground (the principle is the same as the hydrometer) and therefore the unit of measurement is the metre [m].
- Thermometric pole: it is a sensor equipped with a series of equispaced thermometers set at different distances (typically at 0 cm, 20 cm, 40 cm, 60 cm, 80 cm, 100 cm, 140 cm, 180 cm, 220 cm, 260 cm, 300 cm, 340 cm). This measurement allows to measure the temperature of the snow on the ground at different heights and, therefore, to identify the layers where the snow is at risk of melting, which could cause sliding phenomena. It allows to collect useful information in order to prevent the risk of avalanches.
- Present weather measurement sensors are able to distinguish the type of precipitation that they are observing and, therefore, to give a high-quality description of the type of precipitation itself (rain, snow, fog, dew, etc.).
Every sensor on the market that is considered useful in a specific site can be integrated into the automatic station, so that the flexibility guaranteed to the customer is maximum.
Up to now, CAE has installed up to 254 nivometric stations. Many of them have requested an installation by means of a helicopter and are located at high altitudes. Among the sites where our company have implemented its technological equipment, there are the stations of Passo Marinelli at 3050 m and Passo del Moro at 2823 m, belonging respectively to ARPA Lombardy and ARPA Piedmont. The latter was installed in 1988 and in May 2013 it was able to measure up to 432 cm of snow. In 2009, the station of the Gastaldi refuge, located at 2672 metres and owned by the Region of Piedmont, measured up to 466 cm of snow. The station of Livinal Lunc (1837 m), owned by the Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, on February, 6th, 2014 managed to measure the highest measurable snow level before the sensor was buried by the snow: 5 metres and 60 cm.
Up to now, the solutions provided in the nivometric field have been a support to the understanding of real-time scenarios, both aiming at issuing bulletins and analysing deferred data for climatological purposes, in order to improve work planning and the management of the territory. However, the experience gained by CAE on other natural phenomena, combined with the robustness and the flexibility of the innovative technologies developed by our company, let us imagine new applications even in the field of automatic alert systems for avalanches. This kind of application could be very useful in scenarios where a phenomenon jeopardizes road and housing infrastructures, or when a mitigation work does not appear to be the definitive solution to a certain problem.
Guido Bernardi from CAE said: "We believe that the implementation of alert systems, even when they are automatic, is a way to meet our corporate mission and to create innovation for a safer world; that is the reason why we are at our customers' disposal to study and test our innovative solutions in the field of avalanche prevention and we are open to different types of applications, including experimental ones, in collaboration with the Public Administration."