Highly heterogeneous mountain snow distributions strongly affect soil moisture patterns; local ecology; and, ultimately, the timing, magnitude, and chemistry of stream runoff. Capturing these vital heterogeneities in a physically based distributed snow model requires appropriately scaled model structures. This work looks at how model scale—particularly the resolutions at which the forcing processes are represented—affects simulated snow distributions and melt. The research area is in the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in southwestern Idaho. In this region, where there is a negative correlation between snow accumulation and melt rates, overall scale degradation pushed simulated melt to earlier in the season. The processes mainly responsible for snow distribution heterogeneity in this region—wind speed, wind-affected snow accumulations, thermal radiation, and solar radiation—were also independently rescaled to test process-specific spatiotemporal sensitivities. It was found that in order to accurately simulate snowmelt in this catchment, the snow cover needed to be resolved to 100 m. Wind and wind-affected precipitation—the primary influence on snow distribution—required similar resolution. Thermal radiation scaled with the vegetation structure (~100 m), while solar radiation was adequately modeled with 100–250-m resolution. Spatiotemporal sensitivities to model scale were found that allowed for further reductions in computational costs through the winter months with limited losses in accuracy. It was also shown that these modeling-based scale breaks could be associated with physiographic and vegetation structures to aid a priori modeling decisions.
Winstral, A., D. Marks and R. Gurney (2014): Assessing the sensitivities of distributed snow models to forcing data resolution. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 15(4): 1366-1383. DOI: doi:10.1175/JHM-D-13-0169.1