EGU22-9049, updated on 28 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

A novel method to understand the interaction between a patchy snow cover and the adjacent atmosphere

Michael Haugeneder1, Michael Lehning1,2, Tobias Jonas1, and Rebecca Mott1
Michael Haugeneder et al.
  • 1WSL-institute for snow- and avalanche research SLF, Snowhydrology, Switzerland (
  • 2School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

Late in the ablation season the snow cover gets patchy. The resulting surface temperature gradients and the lateral advection of heat over the partial snow cover engage different atmospheric processes such as the development of stable internal boundary layers (SIBL) or atmospheric decoupling close to the snow surface. Even though lateral advection of heat and the resulting atmospheric phenomena significantly influence the energy balance of the melting snow pack in spring, there is a lack of understanding and, thus, they are not explicitly taken into account in snow melt runoff models yet.
To gain further understanding of those complex near-surface atmospheric processes at the meter to sub-meter scale, we conducted a comprehensive field campaign at an alpine research site. The field campaign included the measurement of meteorological parameters, snow ablation pattern, and turbulence using eddy-covariance sensors. Furthermore, we applied a novel experimental method. Two thin synthetic screens were vertically, in parallel to the prevailing wind direction, deployed across the transition from bare ground to snow covering a horizontal distance of 6m. The screens quickly adapt to ambient temperature and, thus, serve as a proxy for the local air temperature. Using a high resolution thermal infrared camera, a 30Hz sequence of infrared frames was recorded. The recorded air temperature fields capture the dynamics of turbulent eddies adjacent to the surface depending on different parameters such as wind speed or the snow coverage. A thin SIBL develops above the leading edge of snow patches possibly protecting the snow surface from warmer air above. However, sometimes the warm air entrains into the SIBL and reaches down to the snow surface adding further energy to the snow pack.
In an attempt to quantify exchange processes from those dynamics, we developed a method to estimate high-resolution, near-surface 2D wind fields from tracking the air temperature pattern on the screens. A spatial correlation search yields the shift of an eddy or air parcel between two subsequent frames, using air temperature as a passive tracer. From this shift, the wind speed can be calculated at a very high spatial resolution. Vertical profiles of air temperature, horizontal, and vertical wind speeds across the transition from bare ground to snow can be evaluated with the advantage of a high spatial (0.01 m) and temporal (30 Hz) resolution.
The screen measurements and wind speed estimation are validated with 3D short-path ultrasonic anemometer measurements close to the surface, which provide further insights into the turbulence characteristics close to the snow surface.
With the high spatio-temporal resolution data we aim to better understand and quantify small scale energy transfer processes over patchy snow covers and their dependency on the atmospheric conditions. This will allow to improve parameterizations of these processes in coarser resolution snow melt models.

How to cite: Haugeneder, M., Lehning, M., Jonas, T., and Mott, R.: A novel method to understand the interaction between a patchy snow cover and the adjacent atmosphere, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-9049,, 2022.

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