Wind tunnel experiments: cold-air pooling and atmospheric decoupling above a melting snow patch
Abstract. The longevity of perennial snowfields is not fully understood, but it is known that strong atmospheric stability and thus boundary-layer decoupling limit the amount of (sensible and latent) heat that can be transmitted from the atmosphere to the snow surface. The strong stability is typically caused by two factors, (i) the temperature difference between the (melting) snow surface and the near-surface atmosphere and (ii) cold-air pooling in topographic depressions. These factors are almost always a prerequisite for perennial snowfields to exist. For the first time, this contribution investigates the relative importance of the two factors in a controlled wind tunnel environment. Vertical profiles of sensible heat and momentum fluxes are measured using two-component hot-wire and one-component cold-wire anemometry directly over the melting snow patch. The comparison between a flat snow surface and one that has a depression shows that atmospheric decoupling is strongly increased in the case of topographic sheltering but only for low to moderate wind speeds. For those conditions, the near-surface suppression of turbulent mixing was observed to be strongest, and the ambient flow was decoupled from the surface, enhancing near-surface atmospheric stability over the single snow patch.