Investigating the Role of Shrub Height and Topography in Snow Accumulation on Low-Arctic Tundra using UAV-Borne Lidar

Lamare, Maxim ; Domine, Florent ; Revuelto, Jesús ; Pelletier, Maude ; Arnaud, Laurent ; Picard, Ghislain

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<p align=justify>Expanding shrubs in the Arctic trap blowing snow, increasing snow height and accelerating permafrost warming. Topography also affects snow height as snow accumulates in hollows. The respective roles of topography and erect vegetation in snow accumulation were investigated using a UAV-borne lidar at two nearby contrasted sites in northern Quebec, Canada. The North site featured tall vegetation up to 2.5 m high, moderate snow height, and smooth topography. The South site featured lower vegetation, greater snow height, and rougher topography. There was little correlation between topography and vegetation height at both sites. Vegetation lower than snow height had very little effect on snow height. When vegetation protruded above the snow, snow height was well correlated with vegetation height. The topographic position index (TPI) was well correlated with snow height when it was not masked by the effect of protruding vegetation. The North site with taller vegetation therefore showed a good correlation between vegetation height and snow height, R2 = 0.37, versus R2 = 0.04 at the South site. Regarding topography, the reverse was observed between TPI and snow height, with R2 = 0.29 at the North site and R2 = 0.67 at the South site. The combination of vegetation height and TPI improved the prediction of snow height at the North site (R2 = 0.59) but not at the South site because vegetation height has little influence there. Vegetation was therefore the main factor determining snow height when it protruded above the snow. When it did not protrude, snow height was mostly determined by topography. Significance Statement Wind-induced snow drifting is a major snow redistribution process in the Arctic. Shrubs trap drifting snow, and drifting snow accumulates in hollows. Determining the respective roles of both these processes in snow accumulation is required to predict permafrost temperature and its emission of greenhouse gases, because thicker snow limits permafrost winter cooling. Using a UAV-borne lidar, we have determined snow height distribution over two contrasted sites in the Canadian low Arctic, with varied vegetation height and topography. When snow height exceeds vegetation height, topography is a good predictor of snow height, with negligible effect of buried vegetation. When vegetation protrudes above the snow, combining both topography and vegetation height is required for a good prediction of snow height.</p>
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