Infoscience

Journal article

Scaling properties and spatial organization of snow depth fields in sub-alpine forest and alpine tundra

This paper reports on a study analysing the spatial distribution functions, the correlation structures, and the power spectral densities of high-resolution LIDAR snow depths (∼1 m) in two adjacent 500 m × 500 m areas in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, one a sub-alpine forest the other an alpine tundra. It is shown how and why differences in the controlling physical processes induced by variations in vegetation cover and wind patterns lead to the observed differences in spatial organization between the snow depth fields of these environments. In the sub-alpine forest area, the mean of snow depth increases with elevation, while its standard deviation remains uniform. In the tundra subarea, the mean of snow depth decreases with elevation, while its standard deviation varies over a wide range. The two-dimensional correlations of snow depth in the forested area indicate little spatial memory and isotropic conditions, while in the tundra they indicate a marked directional bias that is consistent with the predominant wind directions and the location of topographic ridges and depressions. The power spectral densities exhibit a power law behaviour in two frequency intervals separated by a break located at a scale of around 12 m in the forested subarea, and 65 m in the tundra subarea. The spectral exponents obtained indicate that the snow depth fields are highly variable over scales larger than the scale break, while highly correlated below. Based on the observations and on synthetic snow depth fields generated with one- and two-dimensional spectral techniques, it is shown that the scale at which the break occurs increases with the separation distance between snow depth maxima. In addition, the breaks in the forested area coincide with those of the corresponding vegetation height field, while in the tundra subarea they are displaced towards larger scales than those observed in the corresponding vegetation height field.

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