Characterizing avalanches paths to estimate disturbance in Glacier National Park

Authors: Morgan Voss*, University of Montana, Anna E. Klene, University of Montana, Erich Peitzsch, U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Daniel Fagre, U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Topics: Remote Sensing, Biogeography, Mountain Environments
Keywords: Glacier National Park, avalanche paths, vegetation, remote sensing, disturbance
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Napoleon Foyer/Common St. Corridor, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: Download


Snow avalanches are common occurrences throughout the mountains of Glacier National Park (GNP), Montana. These natural disturbances play important roles in mountain ecosystems by regularly disturbing montane systems, impacting vegetation and geomorphology. Since the 1900s, natural avalanche-related activity has caused numerous disruptions for transportation infrastructure on the southern border of GNP. More recently, land managers have begun to appreciate the role of avalanche paths as grizzly bear habitat and complex role in fire patterns and ecology. Avalanches leave visible biogeographic paths on the alpine landscape, clearly noticeable on the ground and in various resolutions of imagery. The distinct patch dynamics of avalanche paths are well suited for remote sensing and machine learning algorithms. In this study, mosaics of National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) high resolution imagery acquired in 2013 were used to quantify the avalanche paths within the park using segmentation algorithms. Avalanche paths were found where expected from previous inventories and comprise a substantial percentage of high elevation basins and approximately 5% of the park’s entire land cover, as would be expected from the dominant form of mass wasting within the park. Analyzing ecologic and geomorphic characteristics of these paths across the entirety of GNP provides insight on mass wasting and associated geomorphic change within the park as well as providing land managers with new information about vegetation disturbance regimes. A summer field campaign will provide ground truth to validate the algorithm's results in two prominent and frequent avalanche areas.

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