Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
03 Apr 2014
Research article |  | 03 Apr 2014

Influence of snow depth distribution on surface roughness in alpine terrain: a multi-scale approach

J. Veitinger, B. Sovilla, and R. S. Purves

Abstract. In alpine terrain, the snow-covered winter surface deviates from its underlying summer terrain due to the progressive smoothing caused by snow accumulation. Terrain smoothing is believed to be an important factor in avalanche formation and avalanche dynamics, and it affects surface heat transfer, energy balance as well as snow depth distribution. To assess the effect of snow on terrain, we use an adequate roughness definition. We developed a method to quantify terrain smoothing by combining roughness calculations of snow surfaces and their corresponding underlying terrain with snow depth measurements. To this end, elevation models of winter and summer terrain in three selected alpine basins in the Swiss Alps characterized by low, medium and high terrain roughness were derived from high-resolution measurements performed by airborne and terrestrial lidar. The preliminary results in the selected basins reveal that, at basin scale, terrain smoothing depends not only on mean snow depth in the basin but also on its variability. The multi-temporal analysis over three winter seasons in one basin suggests that terrain smoothing can be modelled as a function of mean snow depth and its standard deviation using a power law. However, a relationship between terrain smoothing and snow depth was not found at pixel scale. Further, we show that snow surface roughness is to some extent persistent, even in-between winter seasons. Those persistent patterns might be very useful to improve the representation of a winter terrain without modelling of the snow cover distribution. This can for example improve avalanche release area definition and, in the long term, natural hazard management strategies.