We investigated the influence of canopy on snow accumulation and melt in a mountain forest using paired snow on and snow off scanning LiDAR altimetry, synoptic measurement campaigns and in-situ time series data of snow depth, SWE, and radiation collected from the Kaweah River watershed, Sierra Nevada, California. Our analysis of forest cover classified by dominant species and 1 m2 grided mean under canopy snow accumulation calculated from airborne scanning LiDAR, demonstrate distinct relationships between forest class and under-canopy snow depth. The five forest types were selected from carefully prepared 1 m vegetation classifications and named for their dominant tree species, Giant Sequoia, Jeffrey Pine, White Fir, Red Fir, Sierra Lodgepole, Western White Pine, and Foxtail Pine. Sufficient LiDAR returns for calculating mean snow depth per m2 were available for 31 - 44% of the canopy covered area and demonstrate a reduction in snow depth of 12 - 24% from adjacent open areas. The coefficient of variation in snow depth under canopies ranged from 0.2 – 0.42 and generally decreased as elevation increased. Our analysis of snow density snows no statistical significance between snow under canopies and in the open at higher elevations with a weak significance for snow under canopies at lower elevations. Incident radiation measurements made at 15 minute intervals under forest canopies show an input of up to 150 w/m2 of thermal radiation from vegetation to the snow surface on forest plots.
Snow accumulated on the mid to high elevation forested slopes of the Sierra Nevada represents the majority of winter snow storage. However snow estimates in forested environments demonstrate a high level of uncertainty due to the limited number of in-situ observations and the inability of most remote sensing platforms to retrieve reflectance under dense vegetation. Snow under forest canopies is strongly mediated by forest cover and decoupled from the processes that dictate accumulation and ablation of snow in open locations, where almost all precipitation and meteorlogic measurements concerning snow are made. Snow accumulation is intercepted by vegetation until it accumulates to a depth equal to or greater than the height of the vegetation, is reduced by the amount of sublimation or evaporation occurring while on the canopy and is redistributed beneath the canopy at a different density or as liquid water. Ablation processes are dictated by the energy environment surrounding vegetation where sensible heat is mediated by shading of short wave radiation.
Kirchner, P.B., Bales, R.C., Musselman, K.N., and Molotch, N.P. (2012): Under-canopy snow accumulation and ablation measured with airborne scanning LiDAR altimetry and in-situ instrumental measurements, southern Sierra Nevada, California. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2012. Abstract C14B-08..