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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-272
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-272
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  09 Oct 2020

09 Oct 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Mapping avalanches with satellites – evaluation of performance and completeness

Elisabeth D. Hafner1, Frank Techel1,3, Silvan Leinss2, and Yves Bühler1 Elisabeth D. Hafner et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos Dorf, 7260, Switzerland
  • 2Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. The spatial distribution and size of avalanches are essential parameters for avalanche warning, avalanche documentation, mitigation measure design and hazard zonation. Despite its importance, this information is incomplete today and only available for limited areas and limited time periods. Manual avalanche mapping from satellite imagery has recently been applied to reduce this gap achieving promising results. However, their reliability and completeness were not yet verified satisfactorily.

In our study we attempt a full validation of the completeness of visually detected and mapped avalanches from optical SPOT-6, Sentinel-2 and radar Sentinel-1 imagery. We examine manually mapped avalanches from two avalanche periods in 2018 and 2019 for an area of approximately 180 km2 around Davos, Switzerland relying on ground- and helicopter-based photographs as ground truth. For the quality assessment, we investigate the Probability of Detection (POD) and the Positive Predictive Value (PPV). Additionally, we relate our results to conditions which potentially influence avalanche detection in the satellite imagery.

We statistically confirm the high potential of SPOT for comprehensive avalanche mapping for selected periods (POD = 0.74, PPV = 0.88) as well as the reliability of Sentinel-1 for the mapping of larger avalanches (POD = 0.27, PPV = 0.87). Furthermore, we proof that Sentinel-2 is unsuitable for the mapping of most avalanches due to its spatial resolution (POD = 0.06, PPV = 0.81). Because we could apply the same reference avalanche events for all three satellite mappings, our validation results are robust and comparable. We demonstrate that satellite-based avalanche mapping has the potential to fill the existing avalanche documentation gap over large areas, making alpine regions safer.

Elisabeth D. Hafner et al.

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Elisabeth D. Hafner et al.

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Short summary
Satellites prove to be very valuable for the documentation of large-scale avalanche periods. To test reliability and completeness, which has not been satisfactorily verified before, we attempt a full validation of avalanches mapped from two optical and one radar sensor. Our results demonstrate the reliability of high spatial resolution optical data for avalanche mapping, the suitability of radar for the mapping of larger avalanches and the unsuitability of medium spatial resolution optical data.
Satellites prove to be very valuable for the documentation of large-scale avalanche periods. To...
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