Gabriel Wolken awarded avalanche research fellowship

August 13, 2018

Lindsey Heaney

Gabriel Wolken has been awarded an international research fellowship to study and map Alaska’s snow avalanche hazards. The six-month fellowship, which begins Sept. 1 in Davos, Switzerland, promotes collaboration between visiting senior-level scientists and the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

Wolken is an assistant research professor at the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, and has a joint appointment with the Climate and Cryosphere Hazards Program at the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys. He investigates the impacts of changes in snow, ice, and permafrost on Alaska’s landscape, natural resources, and the built environment.

Snow avalanches are a clear threat to public safety, infrastructure and commerce in Alaska, and climate change is expected to increase Alaska’s vulnerability. In the past 20 years, snow avalanches have caused 85 deaths in Alaska – the most frequent cause of death in Alaska from a natural hazard. Thirty percent of Alaska’s total area is at risk from snow avalanches. With infrastructure development planned in many parts of Alaska and subsistence and outdoor recreation a way of life for most Alaskans, the state has much to gain from improved understanding of snow avalanche hazards.

“Baseline avalanche hazard information is missing in much of the state. As the climate continues to change, it becomes increasingly important for us to understand how and where snow avalanche hazards will change throughout the state,” Wolken said.

“This fellowship and long-term collaboration with international scientists will lead to important advances in Alaska avalanche research, help the State of Alaska develop science-based adaptation and response strategies to avalanches, and improve community resilience in a changing climate,” said Steve Masterman, director of the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

This focus on statewide avalanche hazards aligns with Gov. Walker’s recent Administrative Order 289, which established the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and directed the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team and state agencies to consider and develop climate actions in the areas of adaptation, mitigation, research, and response.

All travel expenses for the fellowship will be paid for by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research.

For more information, contact Gabriel Wolken at 451-5018 or