Articles | Volume 4, issue 4
The Cryosphere, 4, 545–559, 2010
The Cryosphere, 4, 545–559, 2010

Research article 02 Dec 2010

Research article | 02 Dec 2010

Understanding snow-transport processes shaping the mountain snow-cover

R. Mott, M. Schirmer, M. Bavay, T. Grünewald, and M. Lehning R. Mott et al.
  • WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, 7260 Davos Dorf, Switzerland

Abstract. Mountain snow-cover is normally heterogeneously distributed due to wind and precipitation interacting with the snow cover on various scales. The aim of this study was to investigate snow deposition and wind-induced snow-transport processes on different scales and to analyze some major drift events caused by north-west storms during two consecutive accumulation periods. In particular, we distinguish between the individual processes that cause specific drifts using a physically based model approach. Very high resolution wind fields (5 m) were computed with the atmospheric model Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS) and used as input for a model of snow-surface processes (Alpine3D) to calculate saltation, suspension and preferential deposition of precipitation. Several flow features during north-west storms were identified with input from a high-density network of permanent and mobile weather stations and indirect estimations of wind directions from snow-surface structures, such as snow dunes and sastrugis. We also used Terrestrial and Airborne Laser Scanning measurements to investigate snow-deposition patterns and to validate the model. The model results suggest that the in-slope deposition patterns, particularly two huge cross-slope cornice-like drifts, developed only when the prevailing wind direction was northwesterly and were formed mainly due to snow redistribution processes (saltation-driven). In contrast, more homogeneous deposition patterns on a ridge scale were formed during the same periods mainly due to preferential deposition of precipitation. The numerical analysis showed that snow-transport processes were sensitive to the changing topography due to the smoothing effect of the snow cover.