A Yellowstone snowroad rutting investigation: a comparison of tracks vs. tires and other contributing factors

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


Yellowstone National Park (YNP) has been experiencing more snowroad rutting in the last ten years. Additionally, YNP has recently (winter 2013 -2014) been experimenting with permitting large low-pressure tire vehicles to operate on the parks' snowroads. To gain a better understanding of snowroad degradation, YNP employed a team of snow scientists from Montana State University. In the winter of 2015, a large scale, two year, snowroad rutting study began in YNP. Parameters pertaining to snowroad strength and the difference in impact to the snowroads between tracked and wheeled vehicles were examined. This thesis in addition to Nelson's (2018) thesis produce a detailed overview of controllable and uncontrollable factors of maintaining and measuring impacts to the snowroads of Yellowstone National Park. Instruments were developed to collect data in the field and in the Sub-Zero Lab at Montana State University. These instruments allowed researchers to quantify crucial differences between vehicle types and the behaviors associated with them. Once data was collected, the data was post-processed in various ways to analyze trends pertaining to snowroad strength and degradation. With the data processed and analyzed, the profilometer and hardness data proved to be the most informative on snowroad degradation tendencies, however, the other instruments helped reinforce conclusions made with the hardness and profilometer data. The process of taking subsurface measurements on vehicle pass-bys, allowed researchers to confirm that rutting is most closely tied to vehicle-surface interactions (~ top 10 cms). It was determined that wheeled and tracked coaches can both cause ruts but by different processes. Wheeled vehicles are primarily causing ruts through compaction whereas tracked vehicles primarily cause ruts through a process of snow displacement. Ruts form from wheeled coaches but after subsequent passes the cross-sectional area of the rut tends to level off, especially when inflation pressure is decreased. While tracked vehicles' ruts continue to grow in size after subsequent passes. Additionally, snowroad hardness was affected differently between tracks and tires. Tracks and tires at higher pressures (> or = 62 kPa) tended to more often soften the snowroad, whereas lower pressure tires (< 62 kPa) tended to harden the snowroad.




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