Snow, landscape and people: Fieldwork in Sweden

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Project Details

Title:Snow, landscape and people: Fieldwork in Sweden
Abstract:Fieldwork from project: Snow, landscape and people: Modelling variations in snow distribution and melt across the landscape and the implications for human activities.


Snow depth and density were measured in the pre-snow melt period from March 24th to April 7th 2009. A transect between the ‘Abisko Birch’ (AB) and ‘Abisko Tundra’ (AT) research sites was surveyed with depth and density measured every 50 m using a snow tube and snow probe. Four additional depth measurements were made at each sampling point 2 m from the tube core location in N, S, E and W directions. At a research site between AB and AT named the ‘Intensive Valley’ (IV), snow depth was measured across a grid with 46 points at intervals of 25, 50 and 100m, and snow density was measured at 9 locations by digging snow pits. Higher resolution snow depth measurements were also taken along a 354 m transect in the IV (which included 3 snow pit locations), with snow depth sampled every 2 m.

The relationships between climate, vegetation, topography and snowcover were explored (see attached figure).

Summary and implications of findings:

In the pre-melt period of 2009, snow depth increases with vegetation height as reflected by the greater mean snow depth in forested areas where blowing snow is trapped. Density was greater in open areas where dense wind crusts form on the snow, and density decreases with vegetation height. Variations in these relationships are due to snow drifts of deeper, less dense snow forming in topographic hollows and sheltered lee slopes in the exposed open areas. Mean SWE was greater in forested areas, however there was not a significant relationship between SWE and vegetation height, likely because in the pre-melt period the greater depth in the forest is compensated for by lower densities. In the pre-melt period the snow depth and density variation isn’t significantly different between the forest and open areas. It is likely that this would change during the melt period when the open areas would melt earlier and at a greater rate thus resulting in patchy, more variable snow cover. There appears to be a clear differentiation in this pre-melt period between clearing and forest in terms of depth and density.

Less dense snow in the forested areas results in the winter transport routes concentrating in the open areas, as observed in the field. If a warming climate resulted in earlier snow melt, these transport routes would become unusable earlier in the spring, especially since many of them cross frozen lakes or marsh area. If this area was to be considered for farming and settlement in a warmer, less snow covered climate, proximity of farming sites to patches of birch forest would be an important consideration to optimise soil moisture and fresh water supply in the spring melt period.

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 Content

Unknown Filetype [0.80 MB]
Abisko field site digital elevation model (LIDAR 4m resolution) overlain with first pulse digital model (vegetation height). AB (birch site) to AT (tundra site) transect points shown, and IV snow pit locations. Legend value is elevation in meters above sea level.

Unknown Filetype [0.11 MB]
Graphs plotting the variation in snow depth, density and water equivalent (respectively) along the AB to AT transect. Differences according to forest or clearing vegetation are highlighted. Snow depth: There is a positive relationship as expected since vegetation traps blowing snow, though there is a lot of variation which is likely due to topographic variations. Blowing snow accumulates on the lee side of slopes and in topographic hollows, and deep snow drifts in open areas is likely the cause of the large snow depth measurements at low vegetation heights. Snow density: Significantly greater in the open areas than forest as expected due to the dense wind crust that develops on the snow as opposed to in the sheltered forested areas. The standard deviation is similar in the forest and open areas, though slightly lower in the open areas. Snow water equivalent (SWE): Mean SWE is significantly less in the open areas than the forest. The higher density snow in the open areas does not compensate for the lower depths. SWE standard deviation is also much lower in the open areas than forest, perhaps this is due to the more homogenous landscape in the open areas.

Project Location

Latitude: 68.31104°N
Longitude: 8.67813°E