Articles | Volume 9, issue 6
Research article
07 Dec 2015
Research article |  | 07 Dec 2015

Verification of the multi-layer SNOWPACK model with different water transport schemes

N. Wever, L. Schmid, A. Heilig, O. Eisen, C. Fierz, and M. Lehning

Abstract. The widely used detailed SNOWPACK model has undergone constant development over the years. A notable recent extension is the introduction of a Richards equation (RE) solver as an alternative for the bucket-type approach for describing water transport in the snow and soil layers. In addition, continuous updates of snow settling and new snow density parameterizations have changed model behavior. This study presents a detailed evaluation of model performance against a comprehensive multiyear data set from Weissfluhjoch near Davos, Switzerland. The data set is collected by automatic meteorological and snowpack measurements and manual snow profiles. During the main winter season, snow height (RMSE: < 4.2 cm), snow water equivalent (SWE, RMSE: < 40 mm w.e.), snow temperature distributions (typical deviation with measurements: < 1.0 °C) and snow density (typical deviation with observations: < 50 kg m−3) as well as their temporal evolution are well simulated in the model and the influence of the two water transport schemes is small. The RE approach reproduces internal differences over capillary barriers but fails to predict enough grain growth since the growth routines have been calibrated using the bucket scheme in the original SNOWPACK model. However, the agreement in both density and grain size is sufficient to parameterize the hydraulic properties successfully. In the melt season, a pronounced underestimation of typically 200 mm w.e. in SWE is found. The discrepancies between the simulations and the field data are generally larger than the differences between the two water transport schemes. Nevertheless, the detailed comparison of the internal snowpack structure shows that the timing of internal temperature and water dynamics is adequately and better represented with the new RE approach when compared to the conventional bucket scheme. On the contrary, the progress of the meltwater front in the snowpack as detected by radar and the temporal evolution of the vertical distribution of melt forms in manually observed snow profiles do not support this conclusion. This discrepancy suggests that the implementation of RE partly mimics preferential flow effects.

Short summary
A verification of the physics based SNOWPACK model with field observations showed that typical snowpack properties like density and temperature are adequately simulated. Also two water transport schemes were verified, showing that although Richards equation improves snowpack runoff and several aspects of the internal snowpack structure, the bucket scheme appeared to have a higher agreement with the snow microstructure. The choice of water transport scheme may depend on the intended application.