Difficulty estimating snowpack variability across complex forested terrain currently hinders the prediction of water resources in the semi-arid Southwestern U.S. Catchment-scale estimates of snowpack variability are necessary for addressing ecological, hydrological, and water resources issues, but are often interpolated from a small number of point-scale observations. In this study, we used LiDAR-derived distributed datasets to investigate how elevation, aspect, topography, and vegetation interact to control catchment-scale snowpack variability. The study area is the Redondo massif in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, NM, a resurgent dome that varies from 2500 to 3430 m and drains from all aspects. Mean LiDAR-derived snow depths from four catchments (2.2 to 3.4 km^2) draining different aspects of the Redondo massif varied by 30%, despite similar mean elevations and mixed conifer forest cover. To better quantify this variability in snow depths we performed a multiple linear regression (MLR) at a 7.3 by 7.3 km study area (5 x 106 snow depth measurements) comprising the four catchments. The MLR showed that elevation explained 45% of the variability in snow depths across the study area, aspect explained 18% (dominated by N-S aspect), and vegetation 2% (canopy density and height). This linear relationship was not transferable to the catchment-scale however, where additional MLR analyses showed the influence of aspect and elevation differed between the catchments. The strong influence of North-South aspect in most catchments indicated that the solar radiation is an important control on snow depth variability. To explore the role of solar radiation, a model was used to generate winter solar forcing index (SFI) values based on the local and remote topography. The SFI was able to explain a large amount of snow depth variability in areas with similar elevation and aspect. Finally, the SFI was modified to include the effects of shading from vegetation (in and out of canopy), which further explained snow depth variability. The importance of SFI for explaining catchment-scale snow depth variability demonstrates that aspect is not a sufficient metric for direct radiation in complex terrain where slope and remote topographic shading are significant. Surprisingly, the net effects of interception and shading by vegetation on snow depths were minimal compared to elevation and aspect in these catchments. These results suggest that snowpack losses from interception may be balanced by increased shading to reduce the overall impacts from vegetation compared to topographic factors in this high radiation environment. Our analysis indicated that elevation and solar radiation are likely to control snow variability in larger catchments, with interception and shading from vegetation becoming more important at smaller scales.
A.A. Harpold, P.D. Brooks, J.A. Biederman, T. Swetnam (2011): Estimating Catchment-Scale Snowpack Variability in Complex Forested Terrain, Valles Caldera National Preserve, NM. AGU Fall Meeting Presentations Abstract C23F-05..