Snow, landscape and people: Modelling variations in snow distribution and melt across the landscape and the implications for human activities

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Project Details

Title:Snow, landscape and people: Modelling variations in snow distribution and melt across the landscape and the implications for human activities
Abstract:The quantity and distribution of snow across landscapes and timing of the spring

snowmelt is key to a diverse range of processes, from the hydrological cycle and glaciation through to ecological and human-environment interactions. Many snow-covered landscapes are remote, inaccessible and lack observation data, especially at high resolutions and spanning multi-decadal time periods. Models are therefore valuable tools for understanding and simulating temporal and spatial variations in snow cover. The aim is to determine the most robust method of modelling snow distribution and melt across regional landscapes with limited data availability, and to apply models to understand and project variations in snow cover as a result of landscape and climate change.

Physically based, high resolution snow distribution and melt models are tested through fieldwork in Sweden and Norway at research sites with detailed landscape and climate data. The impact of pseudo-limiting input data spatially and temporally on model performance and uncertainty is assessed. Methods of snow model transferral (including parameter estimation and transfer) between areas of different spatial scales and over varying time periods are explored alongside the effects on model uncertainty, with the use of additional field data from research sites in North America and Finland.

The impact of variations in topography, vegetation and climate on snow distribution and melt is assessed through both fieldwork and model application. At the field sites in Norway (Heidal, Oppland) and Sweden (Abisko), relationships between snowcover (depth, density and water equivalent) and topography, vegetation and climate are determined, with exploration of the implications for landscape processes and populations. Model scenarios (including projected future climate scenarios) will be applied to look at the impact of variations in climate and vegetation on snowcover, and how this may affect human-environment interactions such as water supplies, farming, reindeer herding, hunting and movement across the landscape. In Greenland, the viability of Norse settlement and Thule Inuit migration are likely to have been influenced by 13th-17th Century climate variations, but what was the role of changing snow and to what extent did human practices affect the snowcover? Understanding how past climate variations and human influence on the landscape have affected snowcover enables current populations to prepare for the potential impacts of future climate change. The most robust method of model transferal (as determined for regions with spatially and temporally limited data) will be used to model snow distribution and melt at the Norse eastern settlement site in Greenland. The impact of variations in climate, vegetation and snowcover on past human-environment interactions will be explored using model scenarios. For example, what was the effect of vegetation removal on snow distribution and water availability? How would a series of particularly cold and heavy snowfall years affect the grazing, hunting and herding opportunities? Similarly, model scenarios can then be used to project how future climate variations and potential human influences on the landscape (i.e. vegetation changes) may affect snowcover, and subsequently Arctic processes.

Keywords:Snow, modelling, Arctic populations
Sponsors/Funders: Leverhulme Trust (Footsteps of the Edge of Thule)
Project Start Year:2008
Projected End Year:2011

Account Owner

Contact: Laura Comeau
Postal Address: Institute of Geography

School of Geosciences

University of Edinburgh

Drummond Street


Post Code: EH8 9XP

Project Collaborators

Name: Andrew Dugmore
Institution: Institute of Geography, School of GeoSciences
Address: Drummond Street, Edinburgh
Postcode: EH8 9XP
Country: Scotland, UK
Phone: + 44 (0)131 650 8156

Project Location

Latitude: 60.6301°N
Longitude: 45.4834°W