Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (4): 317-331    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0058-5
Research article     
Characteristics and hazards of different snow avalanche types in a continental snow climate region in the Central Tianshan Mountains
HAO Jiansheng1,2, Richard MIND'JE1,3, LIU Yang1,3,4,5,6, HUANG Farong1,3,4,5,6, ZHOU Hao7, LI Lanhai1,3,4,5,6,*()
1State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011, China
2Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
3Ili Station for Watershed Ecosystem Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xinyuan 835800, China
4University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
5CAS Research Center for Ecology and Environment of Central Asia, Urumqi 830011, China
6Xinjiang Key Laboratory of Water Cycle and Utilization in Arid Zone, Urumqi 830011, China
7Transport Department of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Urumqi 830000, China
Download: HTML     PDF(1653KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


Snow avalanches are a common natural hazard in many countries with seasonally snow-covered mountains. The avalanche hazard varies with snow avalanche type in different snow climate regions and at different times. The ability to understand the characteristics of avalanche activity and hazards of different snow avalanche types is a prerequisite for improving avalanche disaster management in the mid-altitude region of the Central Tianshan Mountains. In this study, we collected data related to avalanche, snowpack, and meteorology during four snow seasons (from 2015 to 2019), and analysed the characteristics and hazards of different types of avalanches. The snow climate of the mid-altitude region of the Central Tianshan Mountains was examined using a snow climate classification scheme, and the results showed that the mountain range has a continental snow climate. To quantify the hazards of different types of avalanches and describe their situation over time in the continental snow climate region, this study used the avalanche hazard degree to assess the hazards of four types of avalanches, i.e., full-depth dry snow avalanches, full-depth wet snow avalanches, surface-layer dry snow avalanches, and surface-layer wet snow avalanches. The results indicated that surface-layer dry snow avalanches were characterized by large sizes and high release frequencies, which made them having the highest avalanche hazard degree in the Central Tianshan Mountains with a continental snow climate. The overall avalanche hazard showed a single peak pattern over time during the snow season, and the greatest hazard occurred in the second half of February when the snowpack was deep and the temperature increased. This study can help the disaster and emergency management departments rationally arrange avalanche relief resources and develop avalanche prevention strategies.

Key wordscontinental snow climate      avalanche hazard      full-depth snow avalanche      surface-layer snow avalanche      hazard assessment      disaster management     
Received: 27 August 2020      Published: 10 April 2021
Corresponding Authors: LI Lanhai     E-mail:
About author: * LI Lanhai (E-mail:
Cite this article:

HAO Jiansheng, Richard MIND'JE, LIU Yang, HUANG Farong, ZHOU Hao, LI Lanhai. Characteristics and hazards of different snow avalanche types in a continental snow climate region in the Central Tianshan Mountains. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(4): 317-331.

URL:     OR

Fig. 1 Location of the study area (a) and distribution of avalanche paths in the surrounding of the Tianshan Station for the Snow Cover and Avalanche Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (TSSAR; a), and overview of the TSSAR (b). Photos of snow avalanche deposits blocking the road and measurement of the width, height, and length, (W, H, and L, respectively) of the deposit body from the avalanche are also shown. G218, National Road 218.
Observation project Observation content Abbreviation Unit
Scale of avalanche deposits Width W m
Length L m
Height H m
Volume V m3
Mass M t
Properties of avalanche deposits Composition
(snow, snow and soil, and snow-soil and vegetation)
Density D kg/m3
Liquid water content LWC m3/m3
Type of avalanches Full-depth dry snow avalanche FDA
Full-depth wet snow avalanche FWA
Surface-layer dry snow avalanche SDA
Surface-layer wet snow avalanche SWA
Table 1 Parameters used for describing avalanche characteristics
Fig. 2 Density (a), volume (b), weight (c), and avalanche damage index (d) of FDA, SDA, SWA, and FWA deposits in the Central Tianshan Mountains. FDA, full-depth dry snow avalanche; SDA, surface-layer dry snow avalanche; SWA, surface-layer wet snow avalanche; FWA, full-depth wet snow avalanche. Boxes represent interquartile ranges (25th to 75th percentiles); thick horizontal bars in each box denotes the median (50th percentile); whiskers (thin horizontal bars) represent the highest and the lowest values, respectively; black small triangle denotes the average value.
Fig. 3 Seasonal development of the snow depth for the four snow seasons from 2015 to 2019
Fig. 4 Seasonal changes of air temperature for the four snow seasons from 2015 to 2019
Fig. 5 Cumulative number (a) and avalanche activity index (b) of different snow avalanche types in different time intervals for the four snow seasons from 2015 to 2019
Fig. 6 Temporal distribution of hazard degree of different avalanche types (a) and the overall avalanche hazard degree of the four types (b)
[1]   Abermann J, Eckerstorfer M, Malnes E, et al. 2019. A large wet snow avalanche cycle in West Greenland quantified using remote sensing and in situ observations. Natural Hazards, 97(3):517-534.
[2]   Ancey C, Bain V. 2015. Dynamics of glide avalanches and snow gliding. Reviews of Geophysics, 53(3):745-784.
[3]   Barbolini M, Natale L, Savi F. 2002. Effects of release conditions uncertainty on avalanche hazard mapping. Natural Hazards, 25(3):225-244.
[4]   Bartelt P, Feistl T, Bühler Y, et al. 2012. Overcoming the stauchwall: Viscoelastic stress redistribution and the start of full-depth gliding snow avalanches. Geophysical Research Letters, 39(16):L16501, doi: 10.1029/2012GL052479.
doi: 10.1029/2012GL052479
[5]   Birkeland K W, van Herwijnen A, Reuter B, et al. 2019. Temporal changes in the mechanical properties of snow related to crack propagation after loading. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 159:142-152.
[6]   Castebrunet H, Eckert N, Giraud G, et al. 2014. Projected changes of snow conditions and avalanche activity in a warming climate: The French Alps over the 2020-2050 and 2070-2100 periods. The Cryosphere, 8(5):1673-1697.
[7]   Ceaglio E, Mitterer C, Maggioni M, et al. 2017. The role of soil volumetric liquid water content during snow gliding processes. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 136:17-29.
[8]   Choubin B, Borji M, Mosavi A, et al. 2019. Snow avalanche hazard prediction using machine learning methods. Journal of Hydrology, 577:123929, doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2019.123929.
doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2019.123929
[9]   Clarke J, McClung D. 1999. Full-depth avalanche occurrences caused by snow gliding, Coquihalla, British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Glaciology, 45:539-546.
[10]   Conway H, Raymond C F. 1993. Snow stability during rain. Journal of Glaciology, 39:635-642.
[11]   Dreier L, Harvey S, van Herwijnen A, et al. 2016. Relating meteorological parameters to glide-snow avalanche activity. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 128:57-68.
[12]   Fierz C, Armstrong R, Durand Y, et al. 2009. The international classification for seasonal snow on the ground. (UNESCO, IHP (International Hydrological Programme)-VII, Technical Documents in Hydrology, No. 83, IACS (International Association of Cryospheric Sciences) contribution No. 1. Paris: UNESCO-IHP.
[13]   Ganju A, Dimri A P. 2004. Prevention and mitigation of avalanche disasters in western Himalayan region. Natural Hazards, 31(2):357-371.
[14]   Gaume J, Chambon G, van Herwijnen A, et al. 2018. Stress concentrations in weak snowpack layers and conditions for slab avalanche release. Geophysical Research Letters, 45(16):8363-8369.
[15]   Gauthier D, Brown C, Jamieson B. 2010. Modeling strength and stability in storm snow for slab avalanche forecasting. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 62:107-118.
[16]   Guy Z M, Birkeland K W. 2013. Relating complex terrain to potential avalanche trigger locations. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 86:1-13.
[17]   Haegeli P, McClung D M. 2007. Expanding the snow-climate classification with avalanche-relevant information: initial description of avalanche winter regimes for southwestern Canada. Journal of Glaciology, 53:266-276.
[18]   Hao J S, Huang F R, Liu Y, et al. 2018. Avalanche activity and characteristics of its triggering factors in the western Tianshan Mountains, China. Journal of Mountain Science, 15(7):1397-1411.
doi: 10.1007/s11629-018-4941-2
[19]   Höller P. 2014. Snow gliding and glide avalanches: A review. Natural Hazards, 71(3):1259-1288.
[20]   Hu R J, Ma H, Wang G. 1992. An outline of avalanches in the Tien Shan Mountains. Annals of Glaciology, 16:7-10.
[21]   Ikeda S, Wakabayashi R, Izumi K, et al. 2009. Study of snow climate in the Japanese Alps: Comparison to snow climate in North America. Journal of Mountain Science, 59(2-3):119-125.
[22]   Köhler A, Fischer J T, Scandroglio R, et al. 2018. Cold-to-warm flow regime transition in snow avalanches. The Cryosphere, 12(12):3759-3774.
[23]   Laute K, Beylich A A. 2014. Geomorphology Morphometric and meteorological controls on recent snow avalanche distribution and activity at hillslopes in steep mountain valleys in western Norway. Geomorphology, 218:16-34.
[24]   Ma W L, Hu R J. 1990. Relationship between the development of depth hoar and avalanche release in the Tian Shan Mountain. Journal of Glaciology, 36:37-40.
[25]   Maggioni M, Godone D, Frigo B, et al. 2019. Snow gliding and glide snow avalanches: recent outcomes from two experimental test sites in Aosta Valley (NW Italian Alps). Natural Hazards and Earth System Science, 19:2667-2676.
[26]   McClung D M. 1981. Fracture mechanical models of dry slab avalanche release. Journal of Geophysical Research, 86(B11):10783-10790.
[27]   McClung D M. 2013. Effects of triggering mechanism on snow avalanche slope angles and slab depths from field data. Natural Hazards, 69(3):1721-1731.
[28]   McClung D M, Borstad C P. 2019. Probabilistic size effect law for mode II fracture from critical lengths in snow slab avalanche weak layers. Journal of Glaciology, 65:1-11.
[29]   Mitterer C, Schweizer J. 2013. Analysis of the snow-atmosphere energy balance during wet-snow instabilities and implications for avalanche prediction. The Cryosphere, 7(1):205-216.
[30]   Mock C J, Birkeland K W. 2000. Snow avalanche climatology of the western United States mountain ranges. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 81(10):2367-2392.
[31]   Parshad R, Kumar P, Snehmani, et al. 2019. Seismically induced snow avalanches at Nubra-Shyok region of Western Himalaya, India. Natural Hazards, 99(5):843-855.
[32]   Peitzsch E H, Hendrikx J, Fagre D B, et al. 2012. Examining spring wet slab and glide avalanche occurrence along the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 78:73-81.
[33]   Reiweger I, Schweizer J. 2013. Weak layer fracture: Facets and depth. The Cryosphere, 7(5):1447-1453.
[34]   Rudolf-Miklau F, Sauermoser S, Mears A, et al. 2015. The Technical Avalanche Protection Handbook. New York: Wiley, 1-430.
[35]   Schweizer J, Jamieson B, Schneebeli M. 2003. Snow avalanche formation. Reviews of Geophysics, 41(4):1016.
[36]   Schweizer J, Mitterer C, Techel F, et al. 2020. On the relation between avalanche occurrence and avalanche danger level. The Cryosphere, 14(2):737-750.
[37]   Schweizer J, Bartelt P, van Herwijnen A. 2021. Snow and Ice-Related Hazards, Risks, and Disasters. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 377-416.
[38]   Shandro B, Haegeli P. 2018. Characterizing the nature and variability of avalanche hazard in western Canada. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 18(4):1141-1158.
[39]   Statham G, Haegeli P, Greene E, et al. 2018. A conceptual model of avalanche hazard. Natural Hazards, 90(2):663-691.
[40]   Techel F, Pielmeier C. 2011. Point observations of liquid water content in wet snow and ndash; investigating methodical, spatial and temporal aspects. The Cryosphere, 5(2):405-418.
[41]   Valero C V, Wever N, Christen M, et al. 2018. Modeling the influence of snow cover temperature and water content on wet-snow avalanche run out. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 18(3):869-887.
[42]   van Herwijnen A, Jamieson B. 2007. Snowpack properties associated with fracture initiation and propagation resulting in skier-triggered dry snow slab avalanches. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 50:13-22.
[43]   Wastl M, Stötter J, Kleindienst H. 2011. Avalanche risk assessment for mountain roads: A case study from Iceland. Natural Hazards, 56(2):465-480.
[44]   Wei W S, Qing D H, Liu M Z. 2001. Properties and structure of the seasonal snow cover in the continental regions of China. Annals of Glaciology, 32(1):93-96.
[45]   Wever N, Valero C V, Fierz C. 2016. Assessing wet snow avalanche activity using detailed physics based snowpack simulations. Geophysical Research Letters, 43(11):5732-5740.
[46]   Yang J M, Li C Z, Li L H, et al. 2020. Automatic detection of regional snow avalanches with scattering and interference of C-band SAR Data. Remote Sensing, 12(17):2781.
[47]   Zhang X T, Li X M, Li L H, et al. 2019. Environmental factors influencing snowfall and snowfall prediction in the Tianshan Mountains, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 11(1):15-28.
No related articles found!