Innovations in headwater snow monitoring in the southern Canadian Rockies

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Barnes, Celeste C.
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Dept. of Geography and Environment
The Alberta Rocky Mountain region is a large contributor to the water supply for populations, ecosystems, wildlife, and industry. Water resource managers and governmental policy makers require estimates to ensure there is a sufficient supply to meet increasing demands while at the same time responding to potential decreases in the supply from a changing climate. This research was conducted in the Southwestern Alberta Rocky Mountains and explored precipitation patterns and quantified spatially explicit estimates of winter snowpack SWE water yields to address the need for improved headwater resource assessments. There is high spatial and temporal variability of precipitation and the winter snowpack in mountain regions. Precipitation gauges are prone to sensor- and wind-induced measurement errors. Quality Control Corrections were applied to two valley and one alpine gauge. After corrections, the alpine site had up to a 50% increase in precipitation depths while the valley sites had up to a 5% change. A seasonality component was present where the alpine site had up to 80% more precipitation in the winter months and all sites received 50% to 70% lower precipitation in the summer months. This seasonality caused valley to alpine sites to have different monthly elevational precipitation gradients. Six “single point in time” mesoscale snow water equivalent (SWE) estimates were created using a combination of a) airborne lidar derived or predicted snow depths; and b) publicly accessible snowpack monitoring datasets to constrain snow density models for each SWE estimate. The most productive elevation zone was at the mid-mountain treeline between 1900 masl to 2200 masl producing approximately half of the estimated total water yield. Precipitation corrections, elevational precipitation gradients, and SWE water yields created in this research can be used by water managers to calibrate models used to derive real-time Alberta water resource estimates.
Rocky Mountains , Southwestern Alberta , Precipitation patterns , Winter snowpack , Headwater resource management , Water yield