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Date:06/08/18

The ‘unprecedented’ 3D animation that reveals what really happens when a killer avalanche hits

A stunning 3D animation has revealed what really happens inside an avalanche for the first time.
 
The digital simulation could have a dramatic effect on how mountain rescue teams work, and how areas manage avalanche prone areas.
 
Experts have until now been unable to accurately simulate the huge number of variables in an avalanche.
'What made our approach so original was that we took account of the fact that the snow in that type of avalanche behaves like both a solid and a fluid,' said Johan Gaume, a researcher in the Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences at the ECOLE POLYTECHNIQUE FÉDÉRALE DE LAUSANNE, who helped develop the system
 
Gaume spent several months last year at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) working with 3D modeling experts, some of whom had worked with Disney's engineers to simulate the snow in the film Frozen.
 
'An avalanche is an extremely complex event, with countless parameters and physical variables coming into play from the time the avalanche is triggered until it ends,' researchers say.
 
The study, published today in Nature Communications, combined mathematicians' know-how with Gaume's scientific expertise.
 
 The mathematicians were able to increase the accuracy of their snow simulation thanks to Gaume's in-depth knowledge and the data and field observations collected and analyzed by Alec Van Herwijnen, Gaume's SLF colleague and co-author of the study.
 
The researchers borrowed a technique known as the Material Point Method, which is used to analyze how moving materials behave yet had never before been applied in the study of avalanche release.
 
It underpinned the researchers' novel approach to predicting avalanches - and therefore preventing them more effectively as well.
 
'In addition to deepening our knowledge of how snow behaves, this project could make it possible to assess the potential size of an avalanche, the runout distance and the pressure on any obstacles in the avalanche's path more accurately,' says Gaume.
 
The researcher's simulations could also be applied in the arts - and especially in animated films.



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