GEOSFAIR will explore the use of instrumented drones and the associated assessments of roadside avalanche hazard. Drones can carry instruments such as small cameras, radars and laser scanners and bring back crucial information to avalanche specialists, from areas that are impractical or even impossible for them to reach and help them to take good and well-founded decisions regarding avalanche hazard.
Unlike other disciplines that deal with different kinds analysis and diagnosis, natural hazard assessment is a discipline where access to the materials to be examined is limited. The release areas are located in inaccessible terrain, and the risk of avalanches is often greatest during storms and even polar night with poor visibility.
Thus, estimates of avalanche velocities, run-out distances and damage potential are often based on very limited data. Since avalanches and other natural hazards cause great costs, risk, and uncertainty for the roads, we want to become more precise in both the design of safety measures and the operation of avalanche-prone roads.
Drones could replace expensive and polluting helicopter use. At the same time, we also seek to reveal completely new opportunities for access and data capture where even a helicopter would be insufficient.
It is crucial that access to larger amounts of data should not complicate the decision-making processes. Data must therefore be presented in a user-friendly way that ensures and documents good decisions during avalanche danger.
The project is organized according to the Norwegian Research Council's guidelines for innovation projects in the public sector and is led by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration in collaboration with NGI and SINTEF. We primarily consider snow avalanches, but the idea is that developed methods can be applied to all kinds of natural hazards.
Every year in Norway, geohazards pose a serious threat to the transport network. Road closures caused by snow avalanches, landslides, and rockfalls incur high economic costs and greatly impact the reliability of Norway’s critical transport network. The GEOSFAIR project owner, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA), is responsible for maintaining important routes that are threatened by snow avalanches. Keeping these roads open requires costly operations to assess and mitigate snow avalanche risk. The widespread coverage of the transport network and growing volumes of travellers, as well as climate changes that have resulted in more severe, more frequent, and less predictable geohazards, have increased the NPRA’s mitigation costs. In addition, closing transport infrastructure for extensive periods has severe societal and financial consequences because in many places there is little or no road redundancy. Mitigation measures tend to be reactive, based on immediate risk rather than on proactive monitoring. Therefore, there is an urgent need for more cost-effective and innovative methods for assessing and mitigating geohazards along NPRA’s network.
Rising geohazard assessment costs, in combination with a climate-impacted, changing risk picture, are the motivation for the GEOSFAIR application. This proposal recognizes the growing capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), payloads to evaluate snow conditions, and software to use those data to support decision making. The NPRA has identified the following research and innovation areas for GEOSFAIR that will significantly create value: 1) Utilization of new, automated UAS technology to survey hazardous terrain while reducing the need for costly manned helicopter flights and manual observations; 2) Improvement in the accuracy and reliability of geohazards data; and 3) Implementation of structured digitization strategies to remotely monitor avalanche sites and to support the NPRA ‘s roadway closure decisions.