Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
The Cryosphere, 5, 405–418, 2011
The Cryosphere, 5, 405–418, 2011

Research article 18 May 2011

Research article | 18 May 2011

Point observations of liquid water content in wet snow – investigating methodical, spatial and temporal aspects

F. Techel and C. Pielmeier F. Techel and C. Pielmeier
  • WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, 7260 Davos, Switzerland

Abstract. Information about the volume and the spatial and temporal distribution of liquid water in snow is important for forecasting wet snow avalanches and for predicting melt-water run-off. The distribution of liquid water in snow is commonly estimated from point measurements using a "hand" squeeze test, or a dielectric device such as a "Snow Fork" or a "Denoth meter". Here we compare estimates of water content in the Swiss Alps made using the hand test to those made with a Snow Fork and a Denoth meter. Measurements were conducted in the Swiss Alps, mostly above tree line; more than 12 000 measurements were made at 85 locations over 30 days. Results show that the hand test generally over estimates the volumetric liquid water content. Estimates using the Snow Fork are generally 1 % higher than those derived from the Denoth meter. The measurements were also used to investigate temporal and small-scale spatial patterns of wetness. Results show that typically a single point measurement does not characterize the wetness of the surrounding snow. Large diurnal changes in wetness are common in the near-surface snow, and associated changes at depth were also observed. A single vertical profile of measurements is not sufficient to determine whether these changes were a result of a spatially homogeneous wetting front or caused by infiltration through pipes. Based on our observations, we suggest that three measurements at horizontal distances greater than 50 cm are needed to adequately characterize the distribution of liquid water through a snowpack. Further, we suggest a simplified classification scheme that includes five wetness patterns that incorporate both the vertical and horizontal distribution of liquid water in a snowpack.