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Water Resources Research

Lower forest density enhances snow retention in regions with warmer winters: A global framework developed from plot-scale observations and modeling

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Abstract

[1] Many regions of the world are dependent on snow cover for frost protection and summer water supplies. These same regions are predominantly forested, with forests highly vulnerable to change. Here we combine a meta-analysis of observational studies across the globe with modeling to show that in regions with average December-January-February (DJF) temperatures greater than −1°C, forest cover reduces snow duration by 1–2 weeks compared to adjacent open areas. This occurs because the dominant effect of forest cover shifts from slowing snowmelt by shading the snow and blocking the wind to accelerating snowmelt from increasing longwave radiation. In many locations, midwinter melt removes forest snow before solar radiation is great enough for forest shading to matter, and with warming temperatures, midwinter melt is likely to become more widespread. This temperature-effect in forest-snow-climate interactions must be considered in representations of the combined ecohydrological system and can be used advantageously in forest management strategies.

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