The Future of Avalanche Beacons: Thermal Imaging and Ground Penetrating Radar

The Future of Avalanche Beacons: Thermal Imaging and Ground Penetrating Radar

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The Future of Avalanche Beacons: Thermal Imaging and Ground Penetrating Radar

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…From the Unofficial Archives.  You’ll need want this info for the Super Strom that’s coming.

The first day of the 2010 International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW) at Squaw Valley involved some highly technical lectures on ground penetrating radar and infra-red thermal photography.  Yes, I know it already sounds overly tecnhical, abstract, and basically unusable, but just imagine the future……..

In the future you may have a screen on your avy beacon that allows you to see thermal images of humans under the snow. Think about it.  Once you get close to your buried buddy you don’t do a fine beacon search, you don’t need to probe.  You just look at the thermal image and bam! there he is.  Dig here!  This would cut avy victim recovery times down by minutes which would boost survival rates of buried victims enormously.

Ground penetrating radar is actually something that can already do this.  It will hopefully get smaller and more affordable quickly.  It was used in Switzerland in 2001.

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image provided by thinkquest.org

Now think about analyzing the snowpack.  Some day there may be a small radar device that you bring with you in the backcountry.  When you find a good area for analyzing the snowpack, you bust out the radar and grab some readings.  This radar sends signals down into the snow, they reflect back up to the device and presto, you get a full snowpack analysis. Software in that radar device will translate the radar information into proper snowpack nomenclature that lets you know where weak layers are, where strong layers are, and what the overall avalanche danger is in that particular snowpack.  This would be huge.  Instead of having to dig snow pits, dig small hand pits, or probe you could just use this device and have high quality information in seconds.  It would also be highly usefull in determining spatial variability in a snowpack and be great for cross checking information extrapolated from hand dug snow pits.

Currently there are thermal imaging cameras available on the market.  But they are large, heavy, very expensive, and they don’t see very far into a snowpack.  It is going to take years to create thermal imaging cameras that are small, light weight, affordable, and more sensitive to see deeper into a snowpack (ideally at least 3 meters).

Using radar to analyze snowpack still has a long way to go as well.  Current research has begun to initiate this process, but it will take much more research and some groudbreaking technology and software advances to get this technology into your hands on a backcountry tour.

The technology and research advances that are being displayed at the ISSW are very impressive.  It should help us sleep better at night knowing that there are hardcore nerds working hard everyday to make us safer in the mountains.  These scientists and the scientists before them have already saved many lives with their hard work, research, and in many cases, life’s work.

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