Snowmelt energetics at a shrub tundra site in the western Canadian Arctic

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Abstract

Snow accumulation and melt were observed at shrub tundra and tundra sites in the western Canadian Arctic. End of winter snow water equivalent (SWE) was higher at the shrub tundra site than the tundra site, but lower than total winter snowfall because snow was removed by blowing snow, and a component was also lost to sublimation. Removal of snow from the shrub site was larger than expected because the shrubs were bent over and covered by snow during much of the winter. Although SWE was higher at the shrub site, the snow disappeared at a similar time at both sites, suggesting enhanced melt at the shrub site. The Canadian Land Surface Scheme (CLASS) was used to explore the processes controlling this enhanced melt. The spring-up of the shrubs during melt had a large effect on snowmelt energetics, with similar turbulent fluxes and radiation above the canopy at both sites before shrub emergence and after the snowmelt. However, when the shrubs were emerging, conditions were considerably different at the two sites. Above the shrub canopy, outgoing shortwave radiation was reduced, outgoing longwave radiation was increased, sensible heat flux was increased and latent flux was similar to that at the tundra site. Above the snow surface at this site, incoming shortwave radiation was reduced, incoming longwave radiation was increased and sensible heat flux was decreased. These differences were caused by the lower albedo of the shrubs, shading of the snow, increased longwave emission by the shrub stems and decreased wind speed below the shrub canopy. The overall result was increased snowmelt at the shrub site. Although this article details the impact of shrubs on snow accumulation and melt, and energy exchanges, additional research is required to consider the effect of shrub proliferation on both regional hydrology and climate. Copyright 2010 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and Crown in the right of Canada.

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