New chance in fight against death in the snow


"We, VERBUND, Austria's leading power company, welcomed the idea of developing an avalanche information system jointly with Austrian experts four years ago, and we are proud to present ARIS ('Avalanche Risk Information System') now", said VERBUND Research Director Univ.-Prof. Gerhard Schiller at a press interview in the Tyrolean village of Galtür today, Thursday.

“With ARIS, we want to provide all responsible avalanche experts, who have to make difficult decisions quickly in the case of hazard, with a fully Internet-fit application - a system that is to increase the reliability of forecasts and will be available all hours”, Prof. Schiller said. “This offers new chances in the fight against death in the snow.”

VERBUND spent a total of approx. ATS eight million (580,000 EUR) on the development of ARIS.

Industrial safety, plant- and operational safety have been very important to VERBUND for decades. An avalanche warning service was set up by the Tauern Power Station Company as early as 1956, for the first time in Austria, after a series of disastrous avalanches had crashed down the mountainside. Building up a group of experts that have been operating at a high technical and scientific level from the very beginning is considered a pioneering feat in avalanche forecasting.

Continuous standardized avalanche documentation in the power station groups of Kaprun and Zillertal has produced homogeneous high-quality data material that is unique in terms of quality and volume. It was the basis for the ARIS forecast model. After complex analytical work modern mathematical models were prepared, adapted, improved and complemented by physical models.

Headed by Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Karl Kleemayr (Institute for Alpine Natural Hazards), scientists at the Vienna University of Agriculture and Forestry finally made the breakthrough. ARIS outcomes show a surprisingly high level of accuracy in avalanche forecasting.

On the basis of existing weather data and other, additional data, the system calculates the probability for an unstable snow layer, exceeding a critical snow depth, and for an unstable snow cover. On the basis of that local information the probability for a self-triggering avalanche is assessed. For the first time, the local topography including slope, roughness, or nearness to a ridge are fully taken into account.

ARIS requires a measuring station supplying local data that are as representative as possible. Additionally, local topographical models are prepared, avalanche tracks are mapped, and areas exposed to avalanches are determined. Existing records about avalanches can be used for optimization but are not necessary – another advantage offered by ARIS.

ARIS visualizes the current and past avalanche risk potentials in each area exposed to avalanches on an attractive surface in various colours in the Internet. Snow depth, drifting and solar radiation are also indicated.

The avalanche experts can use any ordinary computer with Internet access. Since the forecast is calculated on the server, the local PC hardware requirements are relatively low. Another advantage is that all bases of decisions are documented as a protocol databank.

In everyday practice ARIS can help in optimizing avalanche blasting operations and temporary closing of roads for traffic; ARIS also helps optimizing costs by increasing the efficiency in manpower and equipment assignment as well as evacuations.