Snow ablation in forested environments is a result of the multi-component energy balance between the snow surface, radiation, topography, and vegetation. While these processes have been successfully described and modeled over small to moderate spatial extents the required data are available from few locations and existing models are computationally intensive. The problem of applying these principals to determining snow coverage for large spatial extents and frequent time steps, required by satellite observations, has not been solved. We present a simplified approach for determining a melt-out date based on modeled incident radiation, percent canopy cover, and leaf area index. This method was tested using results from instrumental data, field observations, and readily available spatial data sets by calibrating the MODIS Snow Covered Area and Grain size/albedo (MODSCAG) model from a snow-dominated site in the Wolverton basin Sequoia National Park; part of the Southern Sierra Nevada Critical Zone Observatory. The percent snow cover determined by MODSCAG from peak accumulation and melt out during the 2008 and 2009 water years were compared to ground observations of both forest gaps and under canopies. Ground based measurements indicated that under-canopy melt out of snow-covered area began earlier and ended 1 to 4 weeks after that indicated by satellite observations, which can only view snow in forest gaps. In our study ablation rates, snow cover duration, leaf area index, canopy closure, and Incoming short and long wave radiation were measured on north and southeast facing plots in a subalpine red fir forest. Results from regression analysis yield an R2=0.99 between modeled and measured short wave radiation and an R2=0.82 between leaf area index and the difference between open and under canopy thermal infrared radiation. Canopy cover and leaf area index were also found to be good predictors of observed melt rates and the melt off date of snow under tree canopies. This approach provides a basis for estimating under canopy ablation and, in conjunction with MODSCAG estimates of snow covered area in forest gaps, an accurate prediction of total snow cover in forested areas.
Kirchner, P.B., Bales, R.C., Rice, R., Musselman, K.N., Molotch, N.P. (2010): Estimating under-canopy ablation in a subalpine red-fir forest, southern Sierra Nevada, California . Fall meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2010. Abstract C33E-0594..