Two-dimensional liquid water flow through snow at the plot scale in continental snowpacks: simulations and field data comparisons

Webb, Ryan W.; Jennings, Keith; Finsterle, Stefan; Fassnacht, Steven R.

Modeling the multidimensional flow of liquid water through snow has been limited in spatial and temporal scales to date. Here, we present simulations using the inverse TOUGH2 (iTOUGH2) model informed by the model SNOWPACK, referred to as SnowTOUGH. We use SnowTOUGH to simulate snow metamorphism, melt/freeze processes, and liquid water movement in two-dimensional snowpacks at the plot scale (20 m) on a sloping ground surface during multi-day observation periods at three field sites in northern Colorado, USA. Model results compare well with sites below the treeline and above the treeline but not at a site near the treeline. Results show the importance of longitudinal intra-snowpack flow paths (i.e., parallel to ground surface in the downslope direction and sometimes referred to as lateral flow), particularly during times when the snow surface (i.e., snow–atmosphere interface) is not actively melting. At our above-treeline site, simulations show that longitudinal flow can occur at rates orders of magnitude greater than vertically downward percolating water flow at a mean ratio of inline-formula75:1 as a result of hydraulic barriers that divert flow. Our near-treeline site simulations resulted in slightly less longitudinal flow than vertically percolating water, and the below-treeline site resulted in negligible longitudinal flow of liquid water. These results show the increasing influence of longitudinal intra-snowpack flow paths with elevation, similar to field observations. Results of this study suggest that intra-snowpack longitudinal flow may be an important process for consideration in hydrologic modeling for higher-elevation headwater catchments.

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Webb, Ryan W. / Jennings, Keith / Finsterle, Stefan / et al: Two-dimensional liquid water flow through snow at the plot scale in continental snowpacks: simulations and field data comparisons. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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