Weak layers such as buried surface hoar or depth hoar frequently form the failure plane of slab avalanches. Therefore, the mechanical properties of such layers in relation to their snow structure have been investigated. Since it is difficult to transport samples containing a weak layer into cold rooms, the mechanical measurements have to be made in situ.
We investigate strain-rate dependency of shear strength by measuring concurrently strength, deformation and acceleration, using a digital force gauge attached to a 0.05 m2 shear frame to which an accelerometer and a displacement sensor are fixed. In doing so, a dynamic force comparable to a driving skier is applied. The measurements cover a strain-rate range 10-2 to 1 s-1. The samples fail in a brittle manner. The shear-strength values cover the range 0.2–2.8 kPa. The dataset is also used to approximate the coefficient G, the shear modulus, for different weak layers.
The snow structure has been analysed macroscopically in the field and for some layers representative snow samples have been extracted in order to prepare, in the cold laboratory, single-sided serial planes with cuts every 0.1 mm recorded by video. The analysis of these snow samples should have given the relation between some mechanical properties (strength, strain) and the structural properties. Due to basic problems in defining the connection between complex snow grains (e.g. surface hoar), we were unable to complete this part in due time. Only preliminary results on this aspect are presented here. Based on our long-term database, containing macroscopic structural and strength data of weak layers, a relationship between snow type and shear strength has been established.