Acoustic Wave Propagation in Snow Based on a Biot-Type Porous Model

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Rolf Sidler, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Despite the fact that acoustic methods are inexpensive, robust and simple, the application of seismic waves to snow has been sparse. This might be due to the strong attenuation inherent to snow that prevents large scale seismic applications or due to the somewhat counterintuitive acoustic behavior of snow as a porous material. Such materials support a second kind of compressional wave that can be measured in fresh snow and which has a decreasing wave velocity with increasing density of snow. To investigate wave propagation in snow we construct a Biot-type porous model of snow as a function of porosity based on the assumptions that the solid frame is build of ice, the pore space is filled with a mix of air, or air and water, and empirical relationships for the tortuosity, the permeability, the bulk, and the shear modulus.
We use this reduced model to investigate compressional and shear wave velocities of snow as a function of porosity and to asses the consequences of liquid water in the snowpack on acoustic wave propagation by solving Biot’s differential equations with plain wave solutions. We find that the fast compressional wave velocity increases significantly with increasing density, but also that the fast compressional wave velocity might be even lower than the slow compressional wave velocity for very light snow.
By using compressional and shear strength criteria and solving Biot’s differential equations with a pseudo-spectral approach we evaluate snow failure due to acoustic waves in a heterogeneous snowpack, which we think is an important mechanism in triggering avalanches by explosives as well as by skiers.
Finally, we developed a low cost seismic acquisition device to assess the theoretically obtained wave velocities in the field and to explore the possibility of an inexpensive tool to remotely gather snow water equivalent.