Case Study Week 3

Waldo Canyon fire human impacts




Yungay, Peru avalanche 1970




The article that I liked the most for the Waldo Canyon fire was the CNN article. The article was released before the fire was fully contained. It has photographs of the destruction, and of the people being influenced by it. The article covers the impacts brought on by the fire and by the evil nature of some people and just how it effected those involved.

Articles were a little harder to come by for the avalanche case study however.  Granted Wikipedia is not always the most trust worthy of sites but, it did let in some insight of how restrictive the government of Peru is and how they could have avoided the mass deaths from the avalanche if they released the information and took action when it came about. The site explains how the new town on Yungay is located a mile North of the original town.

Unit 5-Week 3: Human Impacts

Finding resources for this particular case study was difficult due to the fact that the event occurred more than 100 years ago during a period of time when record keeping was not considered a priority. In addition to the age of the event, there is also a language barrier to contend with since much of the information about the goings on around the Italian front were recorded in either Italian or German.

  1. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JzkoAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NSgEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7276%2C775575
  2. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.uaf.edu/lib/uaf/reader.action?docID=1885268&ppg=180
  3. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141017-white-war-first-world-war-italy-austro-hungarian-mountains-history/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282521937_Leo_Handl_and_the_Ice_City_Marmolada_Glacier_Italy
  5. http://www.worldwar1.com/itafront/avalan.htm

My favorite resource is the second listed resource. It is a chapter from Erik Durschmied’s book, The Weather Factor: How Nature has Changed History. This chapter, “White Death”, details the situations and hazards in which Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops had to live during and after deadly avalanches on the Italian front. I like this resource because it contains several first hand accounts about the avalanche as well as conditions leading up to the events.

Stop Disasters! Ideas for avalanches.

An idea that I have for creating a game to include avalanches would be to have different mountain peaks with different situations around them. Say one has residential buildings, another is a ski resort, and a third is only a highway. In the game you have to monitor the snow climate and decide if the conditions are to lead to an avalanche. If so, what options would you pick to secure the surrounding area and to get rid of the risk? The three options would give the player a chance to learn the risks with the three environments and how all three may need different types of mitigation to decrease the damage costs.

Avalanche of 31 May 1970, Peru.

For my case study, an avalanche occurred in the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca, Peru. The avalanche was caused by an undersea earthquake that collapsed the North slope of Mt. Huascaran. A slab of glacial ice and rock about 2,990 feet wide and 1 mile long began sliding down the mountain at approximately 335 km per hour. It covered a span of 11 miles. covering both of the towns. Due to the time frame this event happened there is not a lot of information about the event.

For avalanches that occur today we have three mitigation techniques. We can have controlled avalanches that we take action on before they naturally occur to limit the amount of damage, we can actively sustain forests in areas with avalanches, the vegetation acts as a natural barrier to the snow and slows down the avalanche. Or we can create structural barriers such as avalanche dams and retarding structures to limit the amount of damage that can happen. There really is no chance to mitigate whether the avalanche will happen or not though.

“The City of Ice” Avalanche mitigation

The Italian front was no stranger to avalanches. It was common knowledge that heavy snowfall could result in disastrous slides however the most strategic areas tended to also be the most hazardous. Because of this, areas along the Italian front, especially high in the mountains, often utilized structural avalanche mitigation methods such as sand bag trenches, snow nets and building reinforcements.  One of the less common mitigation technique used during this time was burrowing.

To avoid avalanches, as well as frigid temperatures, snowstorms, and enemy fire Austro-Hungarian troops tunneled into a glacier on Mount Marmolada’s northern slope. The end result was ~12 km of tunnels connecting makeshift barracks, kitchens, chapels, and storerooms in an “ice city” that could house ~200 soldiers.

A schematic drawing of ice city

This method was surprisingly effective for a while. The ice not only shielded troops from avalanches but also maintained an internal temperature of ~0ºC , which was much warmer than the external -30ºC temperature .  The ice city did very well however no one  accounted for the movement of the glacier.  Eventually glacial motion contorted tunnels and forced the abandonment of ice city.

The remnants of Ice City re-emerged a decade ago when Alpine glaciers responded to the changing climate. Glacial retreat exposed several WWI artifacts that prompted expedition by local government agencies.  The expeditions unearthed WWI memorabilia as well as personal belongings  of the men who lived  there.

Stop Disaster! Avalanche ideas

Since there is no Stop Disaster! game for avalanches I played around with the flood game for a while. It was an entertaining way to visualize flood mitigation that I think can be modified to fit avalanche hazards.

I like the concept of having to protect an area from a certain hazard. For the flood game it made sense to make it a riverside village however for avalanches I think a higher altitude location, like mountain resort, would make more sense.I also think that incorporating an avalanche-zoning map that progresses from low to high risk would be a good way to set a time scale for the game.

Similar to the flood game, I would like to see certain building with hazard specific upgrade options like avalanche warning systems as well as various structural mitigation methods. Deflecting berms, powerline and building reinforcements, earthen mounds, or even snow nets could be utilized to protect from or divert an avalanche. One option I think would be cool to play around with would be the ability to actively control avalanches through artificial triggering. This wouldn’t need to be super complex, just a point-and-click way to trigger smaller less hazardous easier to defend avalanches.

“White Friday” Avalanche

My first case study will focus on the “White Friday” avalanche that took place in December 1916. The event occurred during World War I on the Italian front where Austro-Hungarian and Italian forces battled high in the southeastern Alps.

The largest single event took place on December 13, 1916 when an avalanche occurred 3343 meters above sea level on Mount Marmolada, the tallest mountain in the Dolomites (a portion of the Southern Limestone Alps in northeastern Italy). The morning of Dec. 13 saw 200,000 tons of snow overrun a barracks in an Austro-Hungarian camp called Gran Poz. The disaster resulted in more than 300 Austro-Hungarian deaths. During the following weeks several other avalanches occurred throughout the Italian front and killed an estimated 9,000-10,000 soldiers.

Because this event happened over 100 years ago in the middle of a war, there is very little direct quantitative information. Most of the information concerning the avalanche itself comes from first hand accounts or government releases following the end of the war.

From first hand accounts, this event was likely a slab-avalanche that occurred following several days of high snowfall on Mt. Marmolada. The avalanche traveled down slope towards Gran Poz, which was placed along a rocky crag to protect it from enemy fire. The avalanche was originally thought to have been triggered by high-angled mortar shells however the true trigger mechanism was never discovered.

One of the things I’ve found most interesting about this event is how the personal accounts describe the avalanche itself. One Austro-Hungarian Chaplin, Marin Metschik, said, “The air pressure had turned another series of huts, just off the direct path of the monster avalanche, into a mass of splintered, crushed rubble that stuck from the mountains of snow mixed with lumps of ice and big rocks.” Also, the event “White Friday” actually happened on a Wednesday.

Avalanche in Peru

The Ancash Earthquake on May 31, 1970 triggered an avalanche that killed nearly 20,000 people. This avalanche happened in Peru and is one of their worst natural disasters. I chose this event because I have a fascination with avalanches and want to learn more about them.

My learning objectives:

  1. What speed did the avalanche travel at?
  2. What type of avalanche was it?
  3. Was there any negative impacts after to the topography?

Avalanche and floods

For my two case studies I’ve chosen to focus on avalanche hazards and flood hazards. My interest in flooding and avalanches comes from growing up in Alaska as well as from the stories I heard as a kid about my neighbors and teachers experiences with them.

After finding few resources about my previous avalanche topic, I decided to refined my case study to focus on a better studied event(s). In 1916, during the midst of WWI, Austrian and Italian soldiers fighting in the Southern Alps attempted to utilize avalanche warfare which resulted in a series of avalanches that killed hundreds.  The avalanches became infamous during WW1 leading the most deadly event, which occurred on Dec 13., to be dubbed “White Friday”.  By the end of this case study I’d like to learn how avalanche risks are assessed, how avalanche conditions arise, and how high risk avalanche areas are cleared safely.

The second hazard I plan to examine is the great USA flood which occurred in the upper mid-west between May and September of 1993. The flooding spanned 9 states and resulted in 50 deaths, thousands of evacuations, and hundreds of broken levees along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. I hope to learn what weather phenomenon lead to the flood, how the flood was tracked during its 5-month duration, and what aspect of the flood caused the levees to fail.