Modeling the effect of vegetation on the accumulation and melting of snow

V. Mahat
David G. Tarboton, Utah State University


This work investigates the variability of snow accumulation and differences in the timing of melt and sublimation between open (grass/shrubs) and forest (conifer/deciduous) locations at a mountain study site in the Western US, using a combination of field observations and modeling. Observations include continuous automated climate and snow depth measurements supported by periodic field measurements of snow water equivalent and temperature in four different vegetation classes (grass, shrubs, coniferous forest, deciduous forest) at the TW Daniel Experimental Forest located 30 miles N-E of Logan. The Utah Energy Balance physically based snowmelt model, was enhanced by adding new parameterizations of: i) snow interception and unloading; ii) transmission of radiation through the canopy; and iii) atmospheric transport of heat and water vapor between the snow on the ground, intercepted snow in the canopy and the atmosphere above; to better simulate snow processes in forested areas. The enhanced model was evaluated by comparing model simulations of meteorological conditions (temperature, wind, radiation) and snow properties (water equivalent, depth, temperature) in and beneath the canopy with observations. Observations showed approximately 10 to 20% more snow accumulation in open areas compared to forest areas. Ablation rates were also found to be higher in open areas than in forest areas. In comparison to coniferous forest, deciduous forest had high rates of accumulation and ablation. The model performed well in representing these effects based on inputs such as canopy height, canopy coverage, leaf area index and leaf orientation; thereby improving our ability to simulate and predict snow processes across heterogeneous watersheds. (KEYWORDS: snow accumulation, melt timing, sublimation, interception, snowmelt)