10 Feb 2022
10 Feb 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Snow properties at the forest tundra ecotone: predominance of water vapor fluxes even in thick moderately cold snowpacks

Georg Lackner1,2,3,4, Florent Domine2,3,5, Daniel F. Nadeau1,4, Matthieu Lafaysse6, and Marie Dumont6 Georg Lackner et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Water Engineering, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
  • 2Takuvik Joint International Laboratory, Université Laval (Canada) and CNRS-INSU (France), Québec, Canada
  • 3Centre d’Études Nordiques, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
  • 4CentrEau, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
  • 5Department of Chemistry, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
  • 6Univ. Grenoble Alpes, Université de Toulouse, Météo-France, CNRS, CNRM, Centre d’Études de la Neige, 38000 Grenoble, France

Abstract. The forest-tundra ecotone is a large circumpolar transition zone between the Arctic tundra and the boreal forest, where snow properties are spatially variable due to changing vegetation. The extent of this biome through all circumpolar regions influences the climate. In the forest-tundra ecotone near Umiujaq in northeastern Canada (56°33'N, 76°28'W), we contrast the snow properties between two sites, TUNDRA (located in a low-shrub tundra) and FOREST (located in a boreal forest), situated less than 1 km apart. Furthermore, we evaluate the capability of the snow model Crocus, initially developed for alpine snow, to simulate the snow in this subarctic setting. Snow height and density differed considerably between the two sites. At FOREST, snow was about twice as deep as at TUNDRA. The density of snow at FOREST decreased slightly from the ground to the snow surface, in a pattern that is somewhat similar to alpine snow. The opposite was observed at TUNDRA, where the pattern of snow density was typical of the Arctic. Crocus was not able to reproduce the density profiles at either site using its standard configuration. We therefore implemented some modifications for the density of fresh snow, the effect of vegetation on compaction and the lateral transport of snow by wind. We demonstrate that upward water vapor transport is the dominant mechanism that shapes the density profile at TUNDRA, while a contribution of compaction due to overburden weight becomes visible at FOREST. The adjustments that were made to Crocus partly compensate for the lack of water vapor transport in the model, but are site-specific to some extent. Furthermore, the challenges using Crocus suggest that the general lack of water vapor transport in the snow routines used in climate models leads to an inadequate representation of even thick and moderately cold snowpacks, with possible major impacts on meteorological and climate projections.

Georg Lackner et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2022-19', Anonymous Referee #1, 28 Mar 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Georg Lackner, 06 May 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2022-19', Anonymous Referee #2, 29 Mar 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Georg Lackner, 06 May 2022
  • RC3: 'Comment on tc-2022-19', Charles Fierz, 30 Mar 2022
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC3', Georg Lackner, 06 May 2022

Georg Lackner et al.

Georg Lackner et al.


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Short summary
We compared the snowpack at two sites separated by less than 1 km, one in shrub tundra, the other one within the boreal forest. Even though the snowpack was twice as thick at the forested site, we found evidence that the vertical transport of water vapor from the bottom of the snowpack to its surface was important at both sites. The snow model Crocus simulates no water vapor fluxes and consequently failed to correctly simulate the observed density profiles.