Implications of spatial distributions of snow mass and melt rate for snow-cover depletion: observations in a subarctic mountain catchment

J Pomeroy, R Essery, B Toth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Spatial statistics of snow water equivalent (SWE) and melt rate were measured using spatially distributed, sequential ground surveys of depth and density in forested, shrub and alpine tundra environments over several seasons within a 185 km(2) mountain catchment in Yukon Territory, Canada. When stratified by slope/aspect sub-units within landscape classes, SWE frequency distributions matched the log-normal, but multiclass surveys showed a more bimodal distribution. Within-class variability of winter SWE could be grouped into (i) windswept tundra and (ii) sheltered tundra/forest regimes. During melt, there was little association between the standard deviation and mean of SWE. At small scales, a negative correlation developed between spatial distributions of pre-melt SWE and melt rate where shrubs were exposed above the snow. This was not evident in dense-forest, alpine-tundra or deep-snowdrift landscape classes. At medium scales, adja-negative SWE and melt-rate correlations were also found between mean values from adjacent slope sub-units of the tundra landscape class. The medium-scale correlation was likely due to slope effects on insolation and blowing-snow redistribution. At the catchment scale, the correlation between mean SWE and melt rate from various landscape classes reversed to a positive one, likely influenced by intercepted and blowing regimes, shrub exposure during melt and adiabatic cooling with elevation rise. Covariance at the catchment scale resulted in a 40% acceleration of snow depletion. These results suggest that the spatial variability and covariability of both SWE and melt rate are scale- and landscape-class-specific and need to be considered in a landscape-stratified manner at the appropriate scale when snow depletion is described and the snowmelt duration predicted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-201
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004
EventInternational Symposium on Snow and Avalanches - Davos
Duration: 2 Jun 20036 Jun 2003


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