CEN: Snow research centre

Head of division : Dr. Samuel Morin

Scientific deputy head : 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 the 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 5 teams, with two 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 3 other teams support research activities (computer facilities, monitoring, financial and administrativ support); in addition they also also do transfer toward the operationnal avalanche hazard forecasting activities of Meteo-France.

  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, see here the accurate location), 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 two research teams :

Team « Mountain Meteorology and Avalanches » Mountain meteorology and climate, Snowdrift,

Avalanches, Snow remote sensing, Scientific evolution and climatological applications of the SCM tool

Team « Snowpack » Snow microstructure, Snow physical properties,

Cryopshere-climate interactions, Snow hydrology

To learn about research and developments at CEN, please see below the science highlights of the CEN research unit from the master science omnibus of the laboratory.

CEN regularly organizes scientific seminars (list). In 2013, CEN contributed to organizing two major scientific events in Grenoble, the first "Snow grain size workshop - Measurements and Applications" from 2 to 5 April 2013 and "International Snow Science Workshop" (ISSW) from 7 to 11 October 2013.
In 2016, CEN organized the "4th Workshop on Remote Sensing and Modeling of Surface Properties" from 14 to 16 March, located on the university field of Saint Martin d’Hères.

CEN proposes training courses (list).

  Support of avalanche hazard forecasting

The CEN supports and coordinates the avalanche forecasting operational services, particularly :

The actions and support activities to research teams are done by 3 teams :

Team « Direction »Teaching, Financial and administrativ management, Communication, Building and car maintenance, Hygiene and Safety
Team « Informatique, Télécommunications et Applications Opérationnelles » Computer applications, computer maintenance, Data back-up, Telecommunications
Team « Laboratoire d’Instrumentation pour l’Etude de la Neige » Monitoring means, Specific sensors for snow, Cold laboratories, Automatic weather and snow station Nivôse network