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New sensor to help scientists study inside avalanches
by Brooks Hays
Bochum, Germany (UPI) Nov 30, 2016

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Scientists believe a new sensor will enable them to conduct the first comprehensive survey of the insides of an avalanche.

"We don't know what exactly happens when an avalanche moves down a mountain, because avalanches have only ever been observed from the outside," Christoph Baer, a researcher at Ruhr-University Bochum, said in a news release.

The new radar sensor developed by Baer and his colleagues will continue to function even after being swept up by a wave of snow.

Understanding an avalanche requires an understanding of the interactions between different layers. The layers of an avalanche are defined by density. If scientists can measure the densities of different layers, they can use fluid dynamics to model the internal processes present in an avalanche.

The new sensor can measure snow density in real-time.

Researchers with the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research have installed the sensor on a test slope in the Valais Alps. They're now waiting for the snow to fall. If an avalanche doesn't occur naturally during the coming winter season, they will generate one by detonating dynamite at the top of a ridge.

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