Date: 12 Mar 2010

Tree-Ring Based Reconstruction of Past Snow Avalanche Events and Risk Assessment in Northern Gaspé Peninsula (Québec, Canada)

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Abstract

Although frequencies of avalanches are much higher in the Canadian Cordillera, archival research, coroner’s investigations and newspaper searches revealed the occurrence of many snow avalanche events in eastern Canada (Liverman et al. 2001; Hétu and Brown 2006; Hétu et al. 2008), highlighting the great destructive capacity of snow wasting even on short slopes. Historical records indicate that avalanches are the second most deadly natural hazard in the Province of Québec with over 71 victims between 1825 and 2008 (Hétu et al. 2008). Snow avalanches primarily affect backcountry recreational activities in highlands but also dwellings and transportation corridors in inhabited areas (Germain 2005; Hétu 2007; Hétu et al. 2008). It is therefore a priority to improve our knowledge of this phenomenon for better management of this deadly natural hazard, particularly regarding the following topics: (i) recognition of snow-avalanche prone areas and hazard mapping. This implies the assessment of predisposing factors (local topography, slope aspect, vegetation) in the specific context of Québec where deadly avalanches have mainly occurred on very short slopes outside mountainous areas (Hétu et al. 2008); (ii) the frequency-magnitude of snow avalanches, including extreme events like the avalanche event which occurred in Kangiqsualujjuaq (east of Ungava Bay) in 1999 (nine fatalities and 25 injured); and (iii) the specific climatic and meteorological conditions responsible for avalanche occurrence and variability for the last century which is critical for the understanding of present and future avalanche activity in the context of climate change (Larocque et al. 2001; Boucher et al. 2003; Dubé et al. 2004; Hétu and Bergeron 2004; Germain et al. 2005, 2006; Hétu 2007; Hétu et al. 2008; Germain et al. 2009).