IWA Publishing

Arctic snow distribution patterns at the watershed scale

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Watershed-scale hydrologic models require good estimates of spatially distributed snow water equivalent (SWE) at winter's end. Snow on the ground in arctic environments is susceptible to significant wind redistribution, which results in heterogeneous snowpacks. The scarcity and quality of data collected by snow gauges provides a poor indicator of actual snowpack distribution. Snow distribution patterns are similar from year to year because they are largely controlled by the interaction of topography, vegetation, and consistent weather patterns. Consequently, shallow and deep areas of snow tend to be spatially predetermined, resulting in depth (or SWE) differences that may vary as a whole, but not relative to each other. Our aim was to identify snowpack distribution patterns and establish their stability in time and space at a watershed scale. Snow patterns were established by: (1) using numerous field surveys from end-of-winter field campaigns; and (2) differentiating snowpacks that characterize small-scale anomalies (local scale) from snowpacks that represent a large-scale area (regional scale). We concluded that basic snow survey site descriptions could be used to separate survey locations into regional and local-scale representative sites. Removing local-scale influences provides a more accurate representation of the regional snowpack, which will aid in forecasting snowmelt runoff events.

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