Articles | Volume 9, issue 3
The Cryosphere, 9, 1265–1276, 2015
The Cryosphere, 9, 1265–1276, 2015
Research article
22 Jun 2015
Research article | 22 Jun 2015

Automatic monitoring of the effective thermal conductivity of snow in a low-Arctic shrub tundra

F. Domine3,2,1, M. Barrere4,5,3,1,6, D. Sarrazin3, S. Morin5, and L. Arnaud6 F. Domine et al.
  • 1Takuvik Joint International Laboratory, Université Laval (Canada) and CNRS-INSU (France), Pavillon Alexandre Vachon, 1045 avenue de La Médecine, Québec, QC, G1V 0A6, Canada
  • 2Department of Chemistry, Université Laval, Québec, QC, Canada
  • 3Centre for Northern Studies, Université Laval, Québec, QC, Canada
  • 4Department of Geography, Université Laval, Québec, QC, Canada
  • 5Météo-France – CNRS, CNRM-GAME UMR 3589, CEN, Grenoble, France
  • 6LGGE, Université Grenoble Alpes and CNRS – UMR5183, 38041 Grenoble, France

Abstract. The effective thermal conductivity of snow, keff, is a critical variable which determines the temperature gradient in the snowpack and heat exchanges between the ground and the atmosphere through the snow. Its accurate knowledge is therefore required to simulate snow metamorphism, the ground thermal regime, permafrost stability, nutrient recycling and vegetation growth. Yet, few data are available on the seasonal evolution of snow thermal conductivity in the Arctic. We have deployed heated needle probes on low-Arctic shrub tundra near Umiujaq, Quebec, (N56°34'; W76°29') and monitored automatically the evolution of keff for two consecutive winters, 2012–2013 and 2013–2014, at four heights in the snowpack. Shrubs are 20 cm high dwarf birch. Here, we develop an algorithm for the automatic determination of keff from the heating curves and obtain 404 keff values. We evaluate possible errors and biases associated with the use of the heated needles. The time evolution of keff is very different for both winters. This is explained by comparing the meteorological conditions in both winters, which induced different conditions for snow metamorphism. In particular, important melting events in the second year increased snow hardness, impeding subsequent densification and increase in thermal conductivity. We conclude that shrubs have very important impacts on snow physical evolution: (1) shrubs absorb light and facilitate snow melt under intense radiation; (2) the dense twig network of dwarf birch prevent snow compaction, and therefore keff increase; (3) the low density depth hoar that forms within shrubs collapsed in late winter, leaving a void that was not filled by snow.

Short summary
The thermal conductivity of Arctic snow strongly impacts ground temperature, nutrient recycling and vegetation growth. We have monitored the thermal conductivity of snow in low-Arctic shrub tundra for two consecutive winters using heated needle probes. We observe very different thermal conductivity evolutions in both winters studied, with more extensive melting in the second winter. Results illustrate the effect of vegetation on snow properties and the need to include it in snow physics models.