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Effects of shelterbelts on snow distribution and sublimation

Kort, John, Bank, Gary, Pomeroy, John, Fang, Xing
Agroforestry systems 2012 v.86 no.3 pp. 335-344
agroforestry, cold zones, hydrologic models, inventories, landscapes, meteorological data, planning, prairies, shelterbelts, snow, sublimation, traps, water conservation, wind, winter, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, United States
On the Canadian Prairies and the northern US Great Plains, snow is an important component of annual precipitation, sometimes constituting over 40% of the total, although there is much annual and regional variability. Much of this snow is transported by wind, causing substantial sublimation losses, which are reduced by obstacles and topographic features on the landscape that reduce snow transport and trap snow. Agroforestry configurations trap snow and reduce the amount and distance of snow movement and, because of this, reduce the amount of moisture lost to sublimation. The planning of agroforestry measures should therefore take into account their effects on snow hydrology. In this study, the effects of shelterbelts on snow quantity and distribution are shown over multiple years, including a number of locations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Results show that snow transport reached equilibrium in 400 m or less (i.e., that sublimation rates were at their maximum beyond 400 m leeward of a shelterbelt). Also, in a paired landscape inventory, the landscape with shelterbelts had 29% more snow water equivalent (SWE) than the unsheltered landscape. Site-specific meteorological data was used in the Prairie Blowing Snow Model, now a component of the Cold Regions Hydrological Model, to calculate the effects of agroforestry configurations on snow water conservation. Modeled snow distribution agreed well with measured snow at Conquest, Saskatchewan, in the winter of 2009/2010. Using actual weather data for the same location for the period 1996–2011, the model calculated the annual sublimation from 200 m wide fields protected by shelterbelts to be up to 12.5 mm less than similar unsheltered fields.