Streamflow variability and the role of snowmelt in a marginal snow environment

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Snowmelt in alpine regions supports hydroelectric power generation, water supply, and agricultural production. These regions are warming, and the impact on streamflow of changes in precipitation and the proportion falling as snow is of interest. We investigate the seasonality and interannual variability of streamflow in the Australian Alps, a key location due to the marginal snowpack with winter air temperatures close to 0°C, and focus on a small subalpine catchment with properties representative of an important part of the broader snow-affected region. Streamflow was highly responsive to precipitation inputs with little autocorrelation observed. Water years were divided into four hydrological seasons based on the mean properties of normalized cumulative inflows. The spring snowmelt season accounted for the greatest proportion of annual inflows (mean = 39 percent). However, correlations between seasonal and annual inflows were only significant in the other three seasons, and winter inflows were the most important contributor to annual variability. The present snowpack is highly variable and sensitive to synoptic-scale influences. Although significant future reductions in snow-covered area have been predicted, we find that water resources are more susceptible to observed declines in total precipitation and likely increases in evapotranspiration than to a shift to proportionally less snowfall.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-176
Number of pages16
JournalArctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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