A 240 year History of Avalanche Risk in the Vosges Mountains from Nonconventional Sources

Florie Giacona, Nicolas Eckert, Brice Martin
2016 NHESSD  
Despite their strong societal impact, systematic documentation of mountain risks remains poor. Thus, snow avalanche chronologies exceeding several decades are exceptional, especially in medium-high mountain ranges where activity can still be significant. This article implements a combination of historical and geographical methods leading to the reconstruction, at the scale of the entire Vosges Massif (north-east of France), of more than seven hundred avalanches that have occurred since the late
more » ... eighteenth century on 128 paths. The clearly episodic nature of the derived geo-chronology can be explained by three interrelated factors that have changed together over time: the body and reliability of sources, social practices conditioning the vulnerability, and the natural hazard itself. Finally, the geo-chronology primarily reflects the evolution of the meaning of the hazard in the social space. Specifically, the event which could be retrieved from the historical sources is an aspect of the interaction between society and its environment. These results confirm the role of the historian in contextualizing and evaluating such data, transforming them into information relevant for risk changes understanding and mitigation. They also highlight the importance of constructing an original database from a diverse suite of historical data, and testing its fidelity using field investigations at an appropriate spatial scale. This general approach is of great utility for investigating other risk phenomena in the frequent situation where conventional sources are sparse and problematic to assemble.
doi:10.5194/nhess-2016-395 fatcat:d7ckmjylvrfcxdxehfrpuwea4y