Surface energy balance and boundary layer development during snowmelt


  • J. M. Baker,

  • K. J. Davis,

  • G. C. Liknes


Improved prediction of snowmelt requires comprehensive data collection, including surface, subsurface, and atmospheric processes, during the snowmelt period. We report results of field research in which all components of the surface energy balance were measured during two different snowmelt periods, along with boundary layer soundings. The two periods were quite different, the first being overcast and the second occurring under clear skies. However, snowmelt was estimated relatively well from the cumulative residual of the energy balance in both cases. Downward infrared radiation and sensible heat flux were important contributors to the melt during overcast conditions, with net radiation providing about two thirds of the energy for melt and sensible heat providing the remainder. The sunny melt was dominated by direct solar heating of the surface. In both cases, estimation of melt as a residual of the energy balance agreed well with visual and gravimetric observations. The boundary layer soundings revealed the importance of advection, which was generally consistent with synoptic patterns during the period of the study. The data also showed a transition from advection-dominated to turbulence-dominated boundary layer budgets as the snowpack disappeared. The potential for convective cloud formation was also examined. Surface heating and entrainment outweighed adiabatic cooling and evaporation, resulting in the boundary layer top relative humidity decreasing as the snow melted and turbulent mixing increased.