Estimating snow sublimation using natural chemical and isotopic tracers across a gradient of solar radiation

Joseph R. Gustafson, P. D. Brooks, N. P. Molotch, W. C. Veatch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Changes in both climate and vegetation may dramatically impact the amount of water stored in seasonal snow cover and the timing of spring snowmelt. This study quantifies how spatial variability in solar radiation affects the spatial and temporal patterns in snow water equivalent (SWE), snow chemistry, and snow water isotopes in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico. Depth, density, stratigraphy, temperature, and snow samples were collected approximately monthly from five locations between January and April 2007 to quantify the effects of solar forcing on snowpack water and chemical balance. Locations varied in solar forcing due to topography and vegetation, while minimizing variability in precipitation, elevation, aspect, interception, and wind redistribution. Snowfall (340 5 mm) was similar across all sites, but peak SWE at maximum accumulation ranged from 187 to 340 mm. Solute concentrations were highest directly under canopies, intermediate in nonshaded forest openings, and lowest in shaded forest openings. Conservative solute concentrations (SO 42-, R2 = 0.80), Cl- (R2 = 0.60), and isotope values (δ18O R2 = 0.96) were inversely related to SWE at maximum accumulation. Mass balance estimates of snowpack water balance using solute concentrations and isotopes indicated that sublimation ranged from <2% to ∼20% of winter precipitation, consistent with previous studies at the site. The strong relationships between solar forcing, SWE, and chemistry suggest that snow chemistry at maximum accumulation can be used to estimate overwinter sublimation. Furthermore, variability in solar forcing also can be used to refine spatial estimates of catchment solute and isotope input at melt.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW12511
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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