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Snow accumulation and ablation response to changes in forest structure and snow surface albedo after attack by mountain pine beetle

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Abstract

This study quantified changes in snow accumulation and ablation with forest defoliation in a young pine stand attacked by mountain pine beetle, a mature mixed species stand, and a clearcut in south-central British Columbia. From 2006 to 2012, as trees in the pine stand turned from green to grey, average canopy transmittance increased from 27% to 49%. In the mixed stand, transmittance remained constant at 19%. In 2009, the year of greatest needle loss, average snow surface litter cover in the pine stand was 29% (range 4 – 61%), compared to ≤9% in other years and over double that in the mixed stand. By 2012, litter accumulation in the now-grey pine stand was only a sixth of that in the mixed stand. Inter-annual variability in the weather had the greatest effect on snow accumulation and ablation, with the greatest differences between both forested stands and the clearcut occurring in 2010, the year of lowest SWE. Differences in snow accumulation between the pine and mixed stand increased in 2010 as a result of decreased snow interception in the young stand after needlefall. Average ablation rates in the attacked stand were most different from the mixed stand in 2009 and 2012, the years with the largest and smallest over-winter needle loss, respectively. This study shows that grey, non-pine, and understory trees moderate snow response to changes in the main canopy. It also highlights the complex interrelationships between ecohydrological processes key to assessing watershed response to forest cover loss in snow dominated hydrologic regimes. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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