The influence of forest on the distribution and size of surface hoar in small meadows

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Snow avalanches pose a significant hazard to winter recreationalists travelling in the backcountry and are difficult to predict on individual slopes. Weak layers responsible for these avalanches may form at the surface multiple times during the winter season and are buried by subsequent snowfall. Understanding causes of slope-scale weak layer variations during formation and destruction periods is crucial for gaining an understanding of their distribution after burial. Persistent weak snow layers, such as surface hoar, can pose hazards for months after burial. This study examines surface hoar crystals on the surface, directly after formation, in two small meadow openings in southwest Montana. Data collection occurred during two winter seasons for three surface hoar formation events. Three environmental metrics associated with surface hoar growth processes in meadow openings are explored and their relationships with crystal size examined using spatial regression and regression tree analysis. The spatial structure for each event is described using multiple crystal sizing measures through semi-variograms. Surface hoar crystals tended to grow largest in areas that were both shaded and possessed large unobstructed views of the sky on north and south aspects. The range of spatial autocorrelation for surface hoar crystal sizes varied from 7 m to beyond 25 m and differed depending on event or crystal sizing measure. Results vary between events and suggest the drivers controlling surface hoar growth are unique to each area and not consistent between events. This research highlights the need for multiple slope-scale snow stability assessments for understanding the distribution of a buried weak layer of surface hoar in a meadow opening. Targeted areas for assessment should incorporate a basic understanding of a meadow's shading and canopy openness and how this varies over a winter season.




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