Snowpack Affects Soil Microclimate Throughout the Year

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Climatic Change

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Snowpack -- Environmental Indicators


Variations in snow depth have complex effects on soil microclimate. Snow insulates soil and thus regulates, along with air temperature, the nature, and extent of soil freezing. There is great uncertainty about the main drivers of soil freezing, which have important effects on ecosystem carbon and nitrogen cycling processes and might change as climate warms and snowfall decreases as part of climate change. Here, we utilized sites from a variety of elevations and aspects within the northern hardwood forest at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (New Hampshire, USA) to investigate relationships between seasonal snowpack, soil freezing, and soil microclimate across this gradient using 8 years of bi-weekly snowpack and soil frost-depth measurements, and continuous soil climate monitoring. We utilize a time-integrated snowpack descriptor and find that snowpacks with lower seasonal snow water equivalents result in more soil temperature variation and deeper soil frost but have no effect on variation in soil moisture. Seasonal snow water equivalent of the snowpack influences the date of rapid soil warming in the spring, which in turn influences both summer soil moisture and an index of annual cumulative soil heat. These results show that snowpack dynamics, which are highly sensitive to changes in climate, have wide-ranging effects on soil microclimate year-round and thus could have important implications for ecosystem carbon and nitrogen cycling processes.


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