NH Natural Hazards
The 2014 Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award is awarded to Nicolas Eckert for innovative findings on the impact of climate change on avalanche risk.
Nicolas Eckert initially investigated how statistical extreme value theory helps to better characterise rare geophysical events, proving that the resulting uncertainties can be used to inform risk mitigation. But his most exciting contribution is arguably about the impact of climate change on avalanche risk. Eckert extracted the predominant temporal pattern of avalanche occurrence from the French avalanche chronicle, showing excellent correlations with climatic drivers. This is one of the most striking pieces of field evidence showing how climate change impacts natural hazards. He did similar work on glacier mass balance series, demonstrating how improved statistical procedures help to extract refined patterns from geophysical data, which are among our best records of the cryospheric system.
Eckert’s pioneering contribution to the modelling and inference of spatio-temporal patterns in avalanches, related geophysical processes and climate proxies is striking. He also highlighted the role of altitude in regional variations in avalanche activity. Eckert has shown how rigorous coupling of mechanical release criteria with extreme value snowfall distributions can be used to retrieve slab avalanche depth field observations, and how these results can be extrapolated to the whole French Alps by taking spatial dependence properties of extreme snowfall into account. Another area where his contribution may have a great impact on hazard mitigation practices in the near future is risk management. Climate science already benefits from his results, and even hydrology, from which he took inspiration at the beginning of his research. He is a promising example of an interdisciplinary scientist.