Montana State University

Department of Earth Sciences

Montana State University
P.O. Box 173480
Bozeman, MT 59717-3480

Tel: (406) 994-3331
Fax: (406) 994-6923
Location: 226 Traphagen Hall

Department Chair

Dr. David Mogk

Karl Birkeland

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Geography
Avalanche Scientist with U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center

Contact Information:



B.A., Environmental Biology, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, 1986
M.S., Earth Sciences, Montana State Univ.-Bozeman, 1990
Ph.D., Geography, Arizona State University, 1997

Research Interests:

My research focuses on practical problems related to snow and avalanches. My primary interest and expertise is on the spatial variability of snow and snow stability at a variety of scales. Some of my recent research includes investigating spatial patterns of snow stability on relatively uniform slopes, studying how those patterns change over time and through space, exploring historical avalanche and weather databases with GIS, looking at a variety of factors related to avalanche climatology, and investigating snow metamorphism in the upper layers of the snowpack. I am also involved in a number of specific technology transfer projects between the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, and the U.S. avalanche centers through my work for the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center.

Current Graduate Students:

Matthew Borish

Past Graduate Students:

(Served as co-chair with Kathy Hansen)

Spencer Logan (MS, 2004 (expected in September) - currently an avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Chris McCollister (MS, 2004) - currently an avalanche forecaster for the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center and a consultant for an infrasonic avalanche detection project. You can read Chris's thesis here (PDF).

Jeff Deems (2003) - currently a PhD student in the Department of Geosciences at Colorado State University. You can read Jeff's thesis here (PDF).

Chris Landry (2002) - currently the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Science in Silverton, Colorado. You can read Chris's thesis here (PDF).

Selected Publications:

These and other articles/theses available at

In press Birkeland, K., K. Kronholm, M. Schneebeli, and C. Pielemeier. In press. Changes in the shear strength and micro-penetration hardness of a buried surface hoar layer. In press for Annals of Glaciology Vol. 38.

In press Landry, C., K. Birkeland, K. Hansen, J. Borkowski, R. Brown, and R. Aspinall. In press. Variations in snow strength and stability on uniform slopes. In press for Cold Reg. Sci. Tech.

2003 Kozak, M., K. Elder, K. Birkeland and P. Chapman. 2003. Variability of snow later hardness by aspect and prediction using meteorological factors. Cold Reg. Sci. Tech. 37(3), 357-371.

2003 McCollister, C., K. Birkeland, K. Hansen, R. Aspinall, R. Comey. 2003. Exploring multi-scale spatial patterns in historical avalanche data, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming. Cold Reg. Sci. Tech. 37(3), 299-313.

2002 Birkeland, K.W. and C.C. Landry. 2002. Power laws and snow avalanches. Geophysical Research Letters 29(11), doi - 10.1029 /2001GL014623, 49-1 to 49-3.

2001 Birkeland, K.W. Spatial patterns of snow stability throughout a small mountain range. Journal of Glaciology, 47(157), 176-186.

2001 Lundy, C., R. Brown, E. Adams, K. Birkeland, and M. Lehning. A statistical validation of the SNOWPACK model in a Montana climate. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 33(2-3), 237-246.

2001 Birkeland, K.W., C.J. Mock, and J.J. Shinker. Avalanche extremes and atmospheric circulation patterns. Annals of Glaciology, 32, 135-140.

2001 Birkeland, K.W. and C.J. Mock. The major snow avalanche cycle of February 1986 in the western United States. Natural Hazards, 24(1), 75-95.

2000 Mock, C.J. and K.W. Birkeland. Snow avalanche climatology of the western United States mountain ranges. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 81(10), 2367-2392.

1999 Mock, C.J., K.W. Birkeland, and G.J. Gress. In: J.G. West and L. Buffaloe, eds., Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Pacific Climate (PACLIM) Workshop, Interagency Ecological Program, Technical Report, California Department of Water Resources, 1-6.

1999 Birkeland, K.W. and R.F. Johnson. The stuffblock snow stability test: Comparability with the rutschblock, usefulness in different snow climates, and repeatability between observers. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 30, 115-123.

1998 Birkeland, K.W. 1998. Terminology and predominant processes associated with the formation of weak layers of near-surface crystals in the mountain snowpack. Arctic and Alpine Research, 30(2), 193-199.

1998 Birkeland, K.W., R.F. Johnson, and D.S. Schmidt. 1998. Near-surface faceted crystals formed by diurnal recrystallization: A case study of weak layer formation in the mountain snowpack and its contribution to avalanche formation. Arctic and Alpine Research, 30(2), 199-204.

1996 Birkeland, K.W. and C. Mock. 1996. Atmospheric circulation patterns associated with heavy snowfall events, Bridger Bowl, Montana, U.S.A. Mountain Research and Development, 16(3), 281-286.

1995 Hinchman, V.H. and K.W. Birkeland. 1995. Age prediction based on stem size for riparian cottonwood stands. Southwest Naturalist, 40(4), 406-409.

1995 Birkeland, K.W., K.J. Hansen, and R.L. Brown. 1995. The spatial variability of snow resistance on potential avalanche slopes. Journal of Glaciology, 41(137), 183-190.