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Watershed-scale controls on snow accumulation in a small montane watershed, southwestern Alberta, Canada



Snow accumulation in mountain headwater basins is a major water source, particularly in semi-arid environments such as southern Alberta where water resources are stressed and snowmelt supplies more than 80% of downstream runoff. Relationships between landscape predictor variables and snow water equivalent (SWE) were quantified by combining field and LiDar measurements with classification and regression tree analysis over two winter seasons (2010 and 2011) in a small, montane watershed. 2010 was a below average snow accumulation year, while 2011 was well above normal. In both the field and regression tree data, elevation was the dominant control on snow distribution in both years, although snow distribution was driven by melt processes in 2010 and accumulation processes in 2011. The importance of solar radiation and wind exposure was represented in the regression trees in both years. The regression trees also noted the lower importance of canopy closure, slope, and aspect, which was not observed in the field data. This technique could provide an additional method of forecasting annual water supply from melting snow. However, further research is required to address the lack of data collected above treeline, to provide a full-basin estimate of SWE. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.