CEN: Snow research centre

Head of division : Dr. Marie Dumont

Deputy head : Laura Guy

Following the law decree founding Meteo-France, “to survey the snowpack, to forecast its evolution et to diffuse relevant information” is one of the missions of the institution. Hence, the CNRM studies snow and snowpack for different applications : avalanche hazard forecasting, role of the snow in the climate system, snow effects on mountainous catchment water resources and river discharges. It uses a specialized unit : the Centre d’Etudes de la Neige (CEN, Snow Research Center). To reach its research objectives, the CEN is has several tools : dedicated computer models, field observations (on permanent sites or during intensive campaigns), experiments in cold laboratory. It is organized into 4 teams, with three research teams which work on several themes, sweeping a wide range of scales from the microscale (i.e. the study of the snow grain physical properties) to the global scale (i.e. the study of the interactions between the snowcover and the climate variability). The 4th team is dedicated to supporting research activities (computer facilities, monitoring, financial and administrativ support).

  Le Centre d’Etudes de la Neige

The Centre d’Etudes de la Neige – French Snow Research Center – (one of the six research units of the CNRM) is specialized in the snow study and in the avalanche hazard forecasting. Situated in Saint-Martin d’Hères (close to Grenoble, France, it aims to make research on snow, to improve the SAFRAN-Crocus-MEPRA suite and to support the operationnal activities. It works in collaboration with french and international laboratories, as with other researchers of the CNRM involved in the snow modelling for climate and hydrological applications (mainly from the GMGEC et GMME units).The CEN belongs to the "Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers de Grenoble"(OSUG), the federal structure "Vulnérabilité des Ouvrages et Risques" (VOR) and to the "Pôle Alpin d’étude et de recherche pour la prévention des Risques Naturels" (PARN).


The CEN researchers use numerical models, national databases and monitoring equipments in the field and in the cold laboratory.


The main models which have intially been developed for the avalanche hazard forecasting are :

  • SAFRAN (meteorological analysis and forecating adapted to mountain ranges)
  • Crocus (detailled model of the snowpack internal evolution)
  • MEPRA (snow stability analysis model)

This 3-model suite SAFRAN-Crocus-MEPRA is an operationnal tool daily used by avalanche forecasters. These models are also used for some research projects such as the study of snowdrift effects or the climatology of the snow cover.


The CEN researchers use Meteo-France national databases, including a snow and meteorology database fed with observations from two dedicated networks (one operated in cooperation with ski resorts and the other composed of the automatic weather stations “Nivôse”).


The CEN operates several measurement sites around Grenoble (French Alps) that are used for experimental campaigns and to build observation datasets necessary to improve or develop snowpack models :

The laboratory also operates cold-room facilities in order to collect snow samples in the field and to make experiments under controled conditions (air temperature and humidity), as for instance experiments focussing on the time evolution of the physical properties of snow.

  The research activity

The research is organized along three research teams :

Team « Snow material » Study of micro-scale snow and avalanche triggering processes: experiments based on X-ray micro-tomography of snow, micro-scale modelling, homogenisation to macroscale
Team « Snow modelling » Development and operation of snow-meteorological models and modelling chains, assimilation methods and ensemble approaches, applications at all time scales (meteorological to climatic)
Team « Observations of the snow cover and its interfaces » Observation of the evolution of the snowpack and exchanges at its interfaces, maintenance of experimental sites (Col de Porte, Col du lac Blanc), development of remote sensing methods for monitoring the snowpack and avalanches

To learn about research and developments at CEN, please see below CNRM SNOW theme.

CEN offers internships and theses to students, as well as job vacancies.

  Support activities for research teams

The activities of the non-research centre are grouped together in a single team:

Team « Support » Administrative and financial management, infrastructure and logistics, IT.
Coordination of the cross-functional "Snow training" team.