Diachronic quantitative snow avalanche risk assessment as a function of forest cover changes

Zgheib, Taline ; Giacona, Florie ; Morin, Samuel ; Granet-Abisset, Anne-Marie ; Favier, Philoméne ; Eckert, Nicolas

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<p align=justify>This work proposes a holistic quantitative snow avalanche risk assessment that evaluates, at reasonable computational costs and for various types of buildings, the impact of forest cover changes on the probability distribution of runout distances, impact pressures and subsequent risk estimates. A typical case study of the French Alps shows that, from a completely deforested to a completely forested path, avalanche risk for a building located downslope decreases by 53-99%, depending on how forest cover is accounted for in avalanche statistical-dynamical modeling. Local forest cover data inferred from old maps and photographs further demonstrates that a 20-60% risk reduction actually occurred between 1825 and 2017 at the site because of the afforestation dynamics, with significant modulations according to the considered building technology. These results (1) assert the protective role of forests against snow avalanches, (2) highlight the potential of combining nature-based solutions with traditional structural measures to reduce risk to acceptable levels at reasonable costs, (3) suggest a significant decrease in risk to settlements in areas that encountered similar forest cover changes and (4) open the door to the quantification of long-term avalanche risk changes as a function of changes of all its hazard, vulnerability and exposure drivers in various mountain context.</p>
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