Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Noah Molotch

Second Advisor

Jeff Deems

Third Advisor

William Travis

Abstract

The global climate is changing on a very broad scale and has been studied extensively. Observed changes include air temperatures, wind patterns, and precipitation rates (IPCC, 2013). These meteorological parameters all drive mountain snowpack structure, and resulting avalanche activity. Linking climate variability and trends to avalanche activity has been minimally studied and the results remain inconclusive. This study uses a 30-year natural avalanche and meteorological dataset from Gothic, Colorado to explore possible trends. A univariate analysis includes linear regression trends and correlations between avalanche and meteorological parameters. Winter seasons were split into two sub-groups to observe trends obscured by the season overall. A significant trend of increasing air temperature was found for both the early and late season. Additionally, an increasing trend in the temperature gradient of the snowpack was found during the early season suggesting decreasing rates of kinetic growth metamorphism. A significant trend of decreasing avalanche occurrence was found during the late season and for the full winter season overall. Temperature and avalanche occurrence results are consistent with other studies found in other areas of the world however these results remain inconclusive due to the complexity of linking avalanche activity to climate fluctuations. Possibilities for future work are outlined as well as suggestions for the snow science field to enhance our ability to draw conclusions from these types of studies.

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