Using GIS and Google Earth for the creation of the Going-to-the-Sun Road Avalanche Atlas, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

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Abstract

Snow avalanche paths are key geomorphologic features in Glacier National Park, Montana, and an important component of mountain ecosystems: they are isolated within a larger ecosystem, they are continuously disturbed, and they contain unique physical characteristics (Malanson and Butler, 1984). Avalanches impact subalpine forest structure and function, as well as overall biodiversity (Bebi et al., 2009). Because avalanches are dynamic phenomena, avalanche path geometry and spatial extent depend upon climatic regimes.

The USGS/GNP Avalanche Program formally began in 2003 as an avalanche forecasting program for the spring opening of the ever-popular Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTSR), which crosses through 37 identified avalanche paths. Avalanche safety and forecasting is a necessary part of the GTSR spring opening procedures. An avalanche atlas detailing topographic parameters and oblique photographs was completed for the GTSR corridor in response to a request from GNP personnel for planning and resource management. Using ArcMap 9.2 GIS software, polygons were created for every avalanche path affecting the GTSR using aerial imagery, field-based observations, and GPS measurements of sub-meter accuracy. Spatial attributes for each path were derived within the GIS. Resulting products include an avalanche atlas book for operational use, a geoPDF of the atlas, and a Google Earth flyover illustrating each path and associated photographs. The avalanche atlas aids park management in worker safety, infrastructure planning, and natural resource protection by identifying avalanche path patterns and location. The atlas was created for operational and planning purposes and is also used as a foundation for research such as avalanche ecology projects and avalanche path runout modeling.

Additional publication details

Publication type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Title Using GIS and Google Earth for the creation of the Going-to-the-Sun Road Avalanche Atlas, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher ISSW
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 5 p.
First page 819
Last page 823