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Experiments and Algorithms to Detect Snow Avalanche Victims Using Airborne Ground-Penetrating Radar

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5 Author(s)

Snow avalanche victims have only a good chance to survive when they are located within a short time. This requires an active beacon for them to wear or a very rapid deployment of a search-and-rescue team with dogs. Customary ground-penetrating radar (GPR) instruments used on the snow surface are not able to reduce fatality numbers because they are slow to search a field. A potential alternative could be an airborne search using radar. An airborne radar search is technologically challenging because a very large data stream has to be processed and visualized in real time, and the interaction of the electromagnetic waves with snow, subsurface, and objects must be understood. We studied a two-step algorithm to locate avalanche victims in real time. The algorithm was validated using realistic test arrangements and conditions using an aerial tramway. The distance dependence of the reflection energy with increased flight heights, the coherence between the use of more antennas and the detectable range, and the reflection images of different avalanche victims were measured. The algorithm detected an object for each investigated case, where the reflection energy of the scans was higher than for the scans of pure snow. Airborne GPR has a large potential to become a rapid search method in dry snow avalanches. However, a fully operational version still requires substantial improvements in hardware and software.

Published in:

IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing  (Volume:47 ,  Issue: 7 )