Journal article

Micrometeorological processes driving snow ablation in an Alpine catchment

Mountain snow covers typically become patchy over the course of a melting season. The snow pattern during melt is mainly governed by the end of winter snow depth distribution and the local energy balance. The objective of this study is to investigate micro-meteorological processes driving snow ablation in an Alpine catchment. For this purpose we combine a meteorological boundary-layer model (Advanced Regional Prediction System) with a fully distributed energy balance model (Alpine3D). Turbulent fluxes above melting snow are further investigated by using data from eddy-correlation systems. We compare modeled snow ablation to measured ablation rates as obtained from a series of Terrestrial Laser Scanning campaigns covering a complete ablation season. The measured ablation rates indicate that the advection of sensible heat causes locally increased ablation rates at the upwind edges of the snow patches. The effect, however, appears to be active over rather short distances of about 4–6 m. Measurements suggest that mean wind velocities of about 5 m s−1 are required for advective heat transport to increase snow ablation over a long fetch distance of about 20 m. Neglecting this effect, the model is able to capture the mean ablation rates for early ablation periods but strongly overestimates snow ablation once the fraction of snow coverage is below a critical value of approximately 0.6. While radiation dominates snow ablation early in the season, the turbulent flux contribution becomes important late in the season. Simulation results indicate that the air temperatures appear to overestimate the local air temperature above snow patches once the snow coverage is low. Measured turbulent fluxes support these findings by suggesting a stable internal boundary layer close to the snow surface causing a strong decrease of the sensible heat flux towards the snow cover. Thus, the existence of a stable internal boundary layer above a patchy snow cover exerts a dominant control on the timing and magnitude of snow ablation for patchy snow covers.


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