Quantifying the effects of vegetation structure on snow accumulation and ablation in mixed-conifer forests

P. D. Broxton, A. A. Harpold, J. A. Biederman, P. A. Troch, N. P. Molotch, P. D. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Snowmelt from forested, mountainous environments in the western United States is a critical regional water resource for streamflow and ecological productivity. These landscapes are undergoing rapid changes from the combined effects of forest fires, insect infestation and climate change. Numerous observational studies demonstrate that trees control snowpack accumulation and ablation over scales of tens of metres. Representing forest heterogeneity in models is important for understanding how changes in climate and vegetation cover affect the snowpack; yet, many snow models simplify a forest into two categories: canopy covered and non-canopy covered. We combine existing parameterizations of mass and energy fluxes within a new three-dimensional framework informed by Airborne Laser Swath Mapping (ALSM)-derived canopy maps and evaluated with ALSM-derived snow depth maps to explicitly simulate snow cover in relation to heterogeneous canopy. Model results capture much of the observed snow variability depicted in the 1-m ALSM-derived snow depth maps. Observations and modelled results identify open areas <15m from tree canopies as having more snow and more snow variability than areas >15m from tree canopies, and modelled results predict that open areas <15m from tree canopies have 30-40% more net snow water input than areas that are underneath tree canopies and 10-25% more net snow water input than areas that are >15m from tree canopies. Furthermore, 1-m simulations give higher estimates for net snow water input than coarser resolution simulations, mainly in areas with fewer trees. These results suggest the importance of explicitly representing canopy edges in snow models. Copyright

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1073-1094
Number of pages22
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Forest structure
  • LiDAR
  • Snow distributions
  • Snow modelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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