Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
16 Nov 2016
Research article |  | 16 Nov 2016

Simulating ice layer formation under the presence of preferential flow in layered snowpacks

Nander Wever, Sebastian Würzer, Charles Fierz, and Michael Lehning

Abstract. For physics-based snow cover models, simulating the formation of dense ice layers inside the snowpack has been a long-time challenge. Their formation is considered to be tightly coupled to the presence of preferential flow, which is assumed to happen through flow fingering. Recent laboratory experiments and modelling techniques of liquid water flow in snow have advanced the understanding of conditions under which preferential flow paths or flow fingers form. We propose a modelling approach in the one-dimensional, multilayer snow cover model SNOWPACK for preferential flow that is based on a dual domain approach. The pore space is divided into a part that represents matrix flow and a part that represents preferential flow. Richards' equation is then solved for both domains and only water in matrix flow is subjected to phase changes. We found that preferential flow paths arriving at a layer transition in the snowpack may lead to ponding conditions, which we used to trigger a water flow from the preferential flow domain to the matrix domain. Subsequent refreezing then can form dense layers in the snowpack that regularly exceed 700 kg m−3. A comparison of simulated density profiles with biweekly snow profiles made at the Weissfluhjoch measurement site at 2536 m altitude in the Eastern Swiss Alps for 16 snow seasons showed that several ice layers that were observed in the field could be reproduced. However, many profiles remain challenging to simulate. The prediction of the early snowpack runoff also improved under the consideration of preferential flow. Our study suggests that a dual domain approach is able to describe the net effect of preferential flow on ice layer formation and liquid water flow in snow in one-dimensional, detailed, physics-based snowpack models, without the need for a full multidimensional model.

Short summary
The study presents a dual domain approach to simulate liquid water flow in snow using the 1-D physics based snow cover model SNOWPACK. In this approach, the pore space is separated into a part for matrix flow and a part that represents preferential flow. Using this approach, water can percolate sub-freezing snow and form dense (ice) layers. A comparison with snow pits shows that some of the observed ice layers were reproduced by the model while others remain challenging to simulate.