Analysis of water balance and runoff generation in high latitude agricultural fields during mild and cold winters
High-latitude conditions in northern Europe are characterised by short growing seasons (May–August) and long dormant seasons. Alternating mild and freezing conditions lead to variable snow accumulation–melt cycles affecting runoff generation, and consequently the loss of nutrients and sediments from agricultural fields. We assessed water balance in two subsurface drained clayey agricultural fields of different slopes (1% and 5%) in southern Finland to discern changes between mild and cold winters. The water balances of the two field sections were produced with a spatially distributed 3D hydrological model. Simulated snow water equivalent (SWE), drain discharge, tillage layer runoff and groundwater outflow from a 7-year period were examined during the dormant seasons (September–April) in relation to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index, which characterises phases related to mild and cold winters in northern Europe. Mild periods (positive NAO) were associated with more frequent runoff events, which were sustained throughout mild winters with lower SWE and shorter time of snow cover. Understanding and quantifying the water balance through periods of different weather patterns is essential as climate change is projected to increase the occurrence of positive NAO phases challenging the control of nutrient and sediment losses from agricultural fields.