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Article:

Excuse Me While I Flow My Snows: What Makes An Avalanche Happen?


This article is from Issue Olympic Winter Games - Vol. 2 No. 2.

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Slab avalanches are the most dangerous kind of avalanche. A slab is a layer of new snow sitting on top of a layer of snow, called a weak layer. Scientists call this a weak layer because the bonds that hold the snow crystals together are weak. The scientists in this study wanted to learn how the weak layer is formed.

Welcome to the Olympic Winter Games edition

Note to Educators

Education Standards Correlations

 

Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • People and Science
  • Technology and Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Atmosphere (Educators)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Rocky Mountain

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Natural resource scientists help to solve some of society's problems by discovering new information about the environment. Sometimes, just learning new things about the environment helps citizens make better decisions. In this study, the scientists were interested in discovering which weather and snow conditions can create avalanche conditions. This is important because avalanches can be dangerous and even deadly for snow skiers and other people who go into snow-covered mountain areas. If people know which weather conditions are favorable for avalanche formation, they can avoid going into snowy mountain areas during those weather conditions. In ways such as this, the work of natural resource scientists can help people make decisions that keep them safe.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists
  • Uses and Benefits of Science

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
Avalanches are snow masses that suddenly release and flow down a hillside. Avalanches are most common on steeper slopes, such as those over 30, and can travel faster than 100 mph (160 km/h) (Figure 1). Even the weight of skiers or other mountain travelers can trigger avalanches during unstable conditions. Avalanches are one of nature's large-scale forces, similar in scale to landslides, floods, and tornadoes. Such large-scale environmental forces usually occur naturally. However, when humans are affected, their impact may be disastrous for individuals and society.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Effect of natural disaster on living things

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Motions and forces (B)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Risks and benefits (F)
  • Science and technology in society (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Structure of the earth system (D)
  • Understandings about science and technology (E)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)

Science Benchmarks covered in this article:
  • Common Themes: Models
  • Common Themes: Scale
  • Habits of Mind: Computation and Estimation
  • Habits of Mind: Critical-Response Skills
  • The Nature of Mathematics: Mathematics, Science, and Technology
  • The Nature of Science: Scientific Inquiry
  • The Nature of Science: The Scientific Enterprise
  • The Nature of Technology: Issues in Technology
  • The Nature of Technology: Technology and Science
  • The Physical Setting: Motion
  • The Physical Setting: Processes that Shape the Earth
  • The Physical Setting: The Earth