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Modeling Snow–Canopy Processes on an Idealized Mountain

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  • 1 Department of Geography, Karl-Franzens University of Graz (KFU), Graz, Austria
  • 2 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research (IMK-IFU), Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 3 Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
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Abstract

Snow interception in a coniferous forest canopy is an important hydrological feature, producing complex mass and energy exchanges with the surrounding atmosphere and the snowpack below. Subcanopy snowpack accumulation and ablation depends on the effects of canopy architecture on meteorological conditions and on interception storage by stems, branches, and needles. Mountain forests are primarily composed of evergreen conifer species that retain their needles throughout the year and hence intercept snow efficiently during winter. Canopy-intercepted snow can melt, fall to the ground, and/or sublimate into the air masses above and within the canopy. To improve the understanding of snow–canopy interception processes and the associated influences on the snowpack below, a series of model experiments using a detailed, physically based snow–canopy and snowpack evolution model [Alpine Multiscale Numerical Distributed Simulation Engine (AMUNDSEN)] driven with observed meteorological forcing was conducted. A cone-shaped idealized mountain covered with a geometrically regular pattern of coniferous forest stands and clearings was constructed. The model was applied for three winter seasons with different snowfall intensities and distributions. Results show the effects of snow–canopy processes and interactions on the pattern of ground snow cover, its duration, and the amount of meltwater release, in addition to showing under what conditions the protective effect of a forest canopy overbalances the reduced accumulation of snow on the ground. The simulations show considerable amounts of canopy-intercepted snowfall can sublimate, leading to reduced snow accumulation beneath the forest canopy. In addition, the canopy produces a shadowing effect beneath the trees that leads to reduced radiative energy reaching the ground, reduced below-canopy snowmelt rates, and increased snow-cover duration relative to nonforested areas. During snow-rich winters, the shadowing effect of the canopy dominates and snow lasts longer inside the forest than in the open, but during winters with little snow, snow sublimation losses dominate and snow lasts longer in the open areas than inside the forest. Because of the strong solar radiation influence on snowmelt rates, the details of these relationships vary for northern and southern radiation exposures and time of year. In early and high winter, the radiation protection effect of shadowing by the canopy is small. If little snow is available, an intermittent melt out of the snow cover inside the forest can occur. In late winter and spring, the shadowing effect becomes more efficient and snowmelt is delayed relative to nonforested areas.

Corresponding author address: Ulrich Strasser, Department of Geography, Karl-Franzens University of Graz (KFU), Heinrichstr. 36, 8010 Graz, Austria. E-mail: ulrich.strasser@uni-graz.at

Abstract

Snow interception in a coniferous forest canopy is an important hydrological feature, producing complex mass and energy exchanges with the surrounding atmosphere and the snowpack below. Subcanopy snowpack accumulation and ablation depends on the effects of canopy architecture on meteorological conditions and on interception storage by stems, branches, and needles. Mountain forests are primarily composed of evergreen conifer species that retain their needles throughout the year and hence intercept snow efficiently during winter. Canopy-intercepted snow can melt, fall to the ground, and/or sublimate into the air masses above and within the canopy. To improve the understanding of snow–canopy interception processes and the associated influences on the snowpack below, a series of model experiments using a detailed, physically based snow–canopy and snowpack evolution model [Alpine Multiscale Numerical Distributed Simulation Engine (AMUNDSEN)] driven with observed meteorological forcing was conducted. A cone-shaped idealized mountain covered with a geometrically regular pattern of coniferous forest stands and clearings was constructed. The model was applied for three winter seasons with different snowfall intensities and distributions. Results show the effects of snow–canopy processes and interactions on the pattern of ground snow cover, its duration, and the amount of meltwater release, in addition to showing under what conditions the protective effect of a forest canopy overbalances the reduced accumulation of snow on the ground. The simulations show considerable amounts of canopy-intercepted snowfall can sublimate, leading to reduced snow accumulation beneath the forest canopy. In addition, the canopy produces a shadowing effect beneath the trees that leads to reduced radiative energy reaching the ground, reduced below-canopy snowmelt rates, and increased snow-cover duration relative to nonforested areas. During snow-rich winters, the shadowing effect of the canopy dominates and snow lasts longer inside the forest than in the open, but during winters with little snow, snow sublimation losses dominate and snow lasts longer in the open areas than inside the forest. Because of the strong solar radiation influence on snowmelt rates, the details of these relationships vary for northern and southern radiation exposures and time of year. In early and high winter, the radiation protection effect of shadowing by the canopy is small. If little snow is available, an intermittent melt out of the snow cover inside the forest can occur. In late winter and spring, the shadowing effect becomes more efficient and snowmelt is delayed relative to nonforested areas.

Corresponding author address: Ulrich Strasser, Department of Geography, Karl-Franzens University of Graz (KFU), Heinrichstr. 36, 8010 Graz, Austria. E-mail: ulrich.strasser@uni-graz.at
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