Articles | Volume 4, issue 2
Research article
28 May 2010
Research article |  | 28 May 2010

Spatial and temporal variability of snow depth and ablation rates in a small mountain catchment

T. Grünewald, M. Schirmer, R. Mott, and M. Lehning

Abstract. The spatio-temporal variability of the mountain snow cover determines the avalanche danger, snow water storage, permafrost distribution and the local distribution of fauna and flora. Using a new type of terrestrial laser scanner, which is particularly suited for measurements of snow covered surfaces, snow depth was monitored in a high alpine catchment during an ablation period. From these measurements snow water equivalents and ablation rates were calculated. This allowed us for the first time to obtain a high resolution (2.5 m cell size) picture of spatial variability of the snow cover and its temporal development. A very high variability of the snow cover with snow depths between 0–9 m at the end of the accumulation season was observed. This variability decreased during the ablation phase, while the dominant snow deposition features remained intact. The average daily ablation rate was between 15 mm/d snow water equivalent at the beginning of the ablation period and 30 mm/d at the end. The spatial variation of ablation rates increased during the ablation season and could not be explained in a simple manner by geographical or meteorological parameters, which suggests significant lateral energy fluxes contributing to observed melt. It is qualitatively shown that the effect of the lateral energy transport must increase as the fraction of snow free surfaces increases during the ablation period.