Spatial Variability of Shortwave Irradiance for Snowmelt in Forests

John W. Pomeroy, Chad Ellis, Aled Prys Rowlands, Richard Essery, Janet Hazel Hardy, Tim Link, Danny Marks, Jean Emmanuel Sicart

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The spatial variation of melt energy can influence snow cover depletion rates and in turn be influenced by the spatial variability of shortwave irradiance to snow. The spatial variability of shortwave irradiance during melt under uniform and discontinuous evergreen canopies at a U. S. Rocky Mountains site was measured, analyzed, and then compared to observations from mountain and boreal forests in Canada. All observations used arrays of pyranometers randomly spaced under evergreen canopies of varying structure and latitude. The spatial variability of irradiance for both overcast and clear conditions declined dramatically, as the sample averaging interval increased from minutes to 1 day. At daily averaging intervals, there was little influence of cloudiness on the variability of subcanopy irradiance; instead, it was dominated by stand structure. The spatial variability of irradiance on daily intervals was higher for the discontinuous canopies, but it did not scale reliably with canopy sky view. The spatial variation in irradiance resulted in a coefficient of variation of melt energy of 0.23 for the set of U. S. and Canadian stands. This variability in melt energy smoothed the snow-covered area depletion curve in a distributed melt simulation, thereby lengthening the duration of melt by 20%. This is consistent with observed natural snow cover depletion curves and shows that variations in melt energy and snow accumulation can influence snow-covered area depletion under forest canopies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1482-1490
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2011


  • Shortwave radiation
  • Snowmelt
  • Irradiance
  • Forest canopy


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