The influence of solar radiation in snow on near surface energy balance in complex topography

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


Once snow reaches the ground it begins to metamorphose. It may thermodynamically metamorphose into a weak layer, which could lead to slab avalanches. The effect of local weather, topography and snow depth on this process can be estimated with a first principle one-dimensional energy balance equation in conjunction with a mesh topographic model. To do this, the commercially available software RadThermRT (RTRT) was used. This work focused on the effect of solar radiation on surface and near surface temperatures as well as the effect of varying the resolution of the topographic model. Three main components were completed. A solar radiation attenuation coefficient was developed based on wavelength, snow grain size, and snow density from published literature. Then this code was used to calculate results from twelve hour radiation recrystallization experiments carried out in a cold lab with homogenous snow. Finally, conditions for metamorphic events were calculated and qualitatively affirmed in the field at the Yellowstone Club ski area. This work demonstrates that solar radiation has a significant effect on the surface temperature as well as temperature at depth, and weak layer metamorphic events can be modeled. Based on RTRT calculations with 100 kg/m 3 density snow, shortwave radiation increased the temperature at the surface by approximately 5°C and at 2.5 centimeters below the surface by 9°C. During the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons, diurnal weather data was collected at the Yellowstone Club ski area, and events around the mountain were recorded with the help of the Yellowstone Club ski patrol and thermal imaging. For radiation recrystallization events, strong positive-knee-shaped gradients were successfully modeled on congruous slopes. RTRT and measured results agreed within 2°C. Spring events were also calculated and measured but there were some false positives. In the winter, spatial variation over the mountain was greater than in the spring where snow temperatures were ubiquitously high. Overall, this work is useful for modeling snow surface and depth temperatures to project the occurrence of weak layer metamorphic events. Going forward from this work, projecting longevity of weak layers and including a layer history of the snow would further improve the model.




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