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Accelerated Snowmelt Protocol to Simulate Climate Change Induced Impacts on Snowpack Dependent Ecosystems.

  • Author(s): Leonard, Laura T
  • Wilmer, Chelsea
  • Steltzer, Heidi
  • Williams, Kenneth H
  • Sharp, Jonathan O
  • et al.
Abstract

Field studies that simulate the effects of climate change are important for a predictive understanding of ecosystem responses to a changing environment. Among many concerns, regional warming can result in advanced timing of spring snowmelt in snowpack dependent ecosystems, which could lead to longer snow-free periods and drier summer soils. Past studies investigating these impacts of climate change have manipulated snowmelt with a variety of techniques that include manual snowpack alteration with a shovel, infrared radiation, black sand and fabric covers. Within these studies however, sufficient documentation of methods is limited, which can make experimental reproduction difficult. Here, we outline a detailed plot-scale protocol that utilizes a permeable black geotextile fabric deployed on top of an isothermal spring snowpack to induce advanced snowmelt. The method offers a reliable and cost-effective approach to induce snowmelt by passively increasing solar radiation absorption at the snow surface. In addition, control configurations with no snowpack manipulation are paired adjacent to the induced snowmelt plot for experimental comparison. Past and ongoing deployments in Colorado subalpine ecosystems indicate that this approach can accelerate snowmelt by 14-23 days, effectively mimicking snowmelt timing at lower elevations. This protocol can be applied to a variety of studies to understand the hydrological, ecological, and geochemical impacts of regional warming in snowpack dependent ecosystems.

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