Snow properties at the forest-tundra ecotone: predominance of water vapor fluxes even in deep, moderately cold snowpacks

Lackner, Georg ; Domine, Florent ; Nadeau, Daniel F. ; Lafaysse, Matthieu ; Dumont, Marie

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The forest-tundra ecotone is a large circumpolar transition zone between the Arctic tundra and the boreal forest, where snow properties are spatially variable due to changing vegetation. The extent of this biome through all circumpolar regions influences the climate. In the forest-tundra ecotone near Umiujaq in northeastern Canada ((56◦33′31′′ N, 76◦28′56′′ W), we contrast the snow properties between two sites, TUNDRA (located in a low-shrub tundra) and FOREST (located in a boreal forest), situated less than 1 km apart. Furthermore, we evaluate the capability of the snow model Crocus, initially developed for alpine snow, to simulate the snow in this subarctic setting. Snow height and density differed considerably between the two sites. At FOREST, snow was about twice as deep as at TUNDRA. The density of snow at FOREST decreased slightly from the ground to the snow surface in a pattern that is somewhat similar to alpine snow. The opposite was observed at TUNDRA, where the pattern of snow density was typical of the Arctic. We demonstrate that upward water vapor transport is the dominant mechanism that shapes the density profile at TUNDRA, while a contribution of compaction due to overburden becomes visible at FOREST. Crocus was not able to reproduce the density profiles at either site using its standard configuration. We therefore implemented some modifications for the density of fresh snow, the effect of vegetation on compaction, and the lateral transport of snow by wind. These adjustments partly compensate for the lack of water vapor transport in the model but may not be applicable at other sites. Furthermore, the challenges using Crocus suggest that the general lack of water vapor transport in the snow routines used in climate models leads to an inadequate representation of the density profiles of even deep and moderately cold snowpacks, with possible major impacts on meteorological forecasts and climate projections.</p>

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