Spatial controls on the distribution and dynamics of a marginal snowpack in the Australian Alps

Shane P. Bilish, J. Nikolaus Callow, Gavan S. McGrath, Hamish A. McGowan

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8 Citations (Web of Science)


Seasonal snowpacks in marginal snow environments are typically warm and nearly isothermal, exhibiting high inter- and intra-annual variability. Measurements of snow depth and snow water equivalent were made across a small subalpine catchment in the Australian Alps over two snow seasons in order to investigate the extent and implications of snowpack spatial variability in this marginal setting. The distribution and dynamics of the snowpack were found to be influenced by upwind terrain, vegetation, solar radiation, and slope. The role of upwind vegetation was quantified using a novel parameter based on gridded vegetation height. The elevation range of the catchment was relatively modest (185 m), and elevation impacted distribution but not dynamics. Two characteristic features of marginal snowpack behaviour are presented. Firstly, the evolution of the snowpack is described in terms of a relatively unstable accumulation state and a highly stable ablation state, as revealed by temporal variations in the mean and standard deviation of snow water equivalent. Secondly, the validity of partitioning the snow season into distinct accumulation and ablation phases is shown to be compromised in such a setting. Snow at the most marginal locations may undergo complete melt several times during a season and, even where snow cover is more persistent, ablation processes begin to have an effect on the distribution of the snowpack early in the season. Our results are consistent with previous research showing that individual point measurements are unable to fully represent the variability in the snowpack across a catchment, and we show that recognising and addressing this variability are particularly important for studies in marginal snow environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1739-1755
Number of pages17
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2019


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