The impacts of mountain pine beetle disturbance on the energy balance of snow during the melt period

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Abstract

Mountain snowpacks provide most of the annual discharge of western US rivers, but the future of water resources in the western USA is tenuous, as climatic changes have resulted in earlier spring melts that have exacerbated summer droughts. Compounding changes to the physical environment are biotic disturbances including that of the mountain pine beetle (MPB), which has decimated millions of acres of western North American forests. At the watershed scale, MPB disturbance increases the peak hydrograph, and at the stand scale, the ‘grey’ phase of MPB canopy disturbance decreases canopy snow interception, increases snow albedo, increases net shortwave radiation, and decreases net longwave radiation versus the ‘red’ phase. Fewer studies have been conducted on the red phase of MPB disturbance and in the mixed coniferous stands that may follow MPB-damaged forests. We measured the energy balance of four snowpacks representing different stages of MPB damage, management, and recovery: a lodgepole pine stand, an MPB-infested stand in the red phase, a mixed coniferous stand (representing one successional trajectory), and a clear-cut (representing reactive management) in the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest in Montana, USA. Net longwave radiation was lower in the MPB-infested stand despite higher basal area and plant area index of the other forests, suggesting that the desiccated needles serve as a less effective thermal buffer against longwave radiative losses. Eddy covariance observations of sensible and latent heat flux indicate that they are of similar but opposite magnitude, on the order of 20 MJ m−2 during the melt period. Further analyses reveal that net turbulent energy fluxes were near zero because of the temperature and atmospheric vapour pressure encountered during the melt period. Future research should place snow science in the context of forest succession and management and address important uncertainties regarding the timing and magnitude of needlefall events. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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