Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 12:39 UK

Avalanche study 'may save lives'

Avalanche
A ' slab avalanche' is a large moving area of snow

New research into the process that triggers slab avalanches may be used to help predict danger on the slopes.

The Edinburgh University study has contradicted the theory that steeper slopes are more dangerous.

A slab avalanche is a large, moving area of snow which can be as big as 300 sq m.

The research, carried out by the centre for materials, science and engineering, indicated that even the smallest incline could trigger a slide.

The scientists, who found that tiny fractures under the surface caused snow to crumble inwardly, said they hoped the find would save lives on Scotland's mountains.

When we took a closer look, we saw that something quite different was going on
Joachim Heierli
University of Edinburgh

Joachim Heierli, of Edinburgh University, said: "It was thought slab avalanches were caused by a section of snow simply slipping off other layers.

"However, when we took a closer look, we saw that something quite different was going on.

"Our discoveries complete a piece of the puzzle of how avalanches occur - we hope this will help to pinpoint dangerous tell-tale signs and so avoid unnecessary dangers to people on mountains."

The work, carried out with researchers at Karlsruhe University in Germany, was funded by the European Commission and has been published in the journal, Science.


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