When Disney was making their smash hit animated film “Frozen” they brought in a team of scientists to inform them of how snow behaves in the real world.
“They brought in several scientists to look at things like snow crystal formation, how snow looks, and avalanches.” –Director of U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center Karl Birkeland
They ended up using a computer model called “Material Point Method” (MPM) to simulate the clumping and behavior of snow in the digital realm. K5News reports creators at Disney decided not to include the avalanche scene but the production of the film directly led to a better understanding of the Material Point Method’s application to avalanche science.
A team of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania published a 2018 article on using MPM to model avalanches:
“Right now MPM is right at the cutting edge, and one of the reasons is you can model the snow and how an avalanche releases, and how an avalanche flows. In the past, you would use two separate models to do that.” –Karl Birkeland
Birkeland believes computer modeling has already helped move forward the complex work of predicting and understanding slides.
“What’s incredible is when we look at the output from the model, and look at the renderings these folks are getting, from the simulations when they’re looking at avalanches, those avalanches look just like real avalanches And so that’s telling us that the physics behind the model is pretty good. The better we can understand avalanches, the more lives we can save in the backcountry.”