Sensitivity of model parameterizations for simulated latent heat flux at the snow surface for complex mountain sites

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Abstract

The snowcover energy balance is typically dominated by net radiation and sensible and latent heat fluxes. Validation of the two latter components is rare and often difficult to undertake at complex mountain sites. Latent heat flux, the focus of this paper, is the primary coupling mechanism between the snow surface and the atmosphere. It accounts for the critical exchange of mass (sublimation or condensation), along with the associated snowcover energy loss or gain. Measured and modelled latent heat fluxes at a wind-exposed and wind-sheltered site were compared to evaluate variability in model parameters. A well-tested and well-validated snowcover energy balance model, Snobal, was selected for this comparison because of previously successful applications of the model at these sites and because of the adjustability of the parameters specific to latent heat transfer within the model. Simulated latent heat flux and snow water equivalent (SWE) were not sensitive to different formulations of the stability profile functions associated with heat transfer calculations. The model parameters of snow surface roughness length and active snow layer thickness were used to improve latent heat flux simulations while retaining accuracy in the simulation of the SWE at an exposed and sheltered study site. Optimal parameters for simulated latent heat flux and SWE were found at the exposed site with a shorter roughness length and thicker active layer, and at the sheltered site with a longer roughness length and thinner active layer. These findings were linked to physical characteristics of the study sites and will allow for adoption into other snow models that use similar parameters. Physical characteristics of wind exposure and cover could also be used to distribute critical parameters in a spatially distributed modelling domain and aid in parameter selection for application to other watersheds where detailed information is not available. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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