Energy balance and snowmelt drivers of a marginal subalpine snowpack

Shane P. Bilish, Hamish A. McGowan, John Nikolaus Callow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Snowmelt from the seasonal snowpack in the Australian Alps is a significant source of water for irrigated agriculture, electricity generation, and environmental flows in the Murray–Darling Basin. Previous studies have reported negative decadal to multidecadal trends in maximum snow depth, snow season duration, and snow-covered area. Here, we characterise the energy balance of this marginal maritime snowpack for the first time. Turbulent fluxes measured using the eddy covariance and bulk aerodynamic methods are compared; discrepancies are attributed to the differing assumptions of the methods and characteristics of the measurement site. We examine the variability of the individual energy balance components and the drivers of snowmelt, and we find that incoming longwave radiation is the dominant control on snowmelt, providing more than 80% of the total energy to the snowpack over the season. During a midwinter rain-on-snow event, the advected rain heat flux provided 8% of the daily total, with the incoming longwave flux still accounting for almost 80%. The ground heat flux contributes a small proportion of the seasonal total but increases in patchy or intermittent snow cover. Comparing these results with those of studies in other maritime locations, we find that the turbulent fluxes are likely to make a proportionally higher contribution to the energy balance due to the short Australian snow season, underpinning the sensitivity of this environment to climate variability and change. These results extend the limited body of knowledge on highly marginal snowpacks and may be relevant to other regions with no direct measurements of the energy balance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3837-3851
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2018

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