Charred Forests Increase Snow Albedo Decay: Watershed-Scale Implications of the Postfire Snow Albedo Effect

Monday, 15 December 2014
Kelly E Gleason and Anne Walden Nolin, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States
Recent work shows that after a high severity forest fire, approximately 60% more solar radiation reaches the snow surface due to the reduction in canopy density. Also, significant amounts of black carbon (BC) particles and larger burned woody debris (BWD) are shed from standing charred trees, which concentrate on the snowpack, darken its surface, and reduce snow albedo by 50% during ablation. The postfire forest environment drives a substantial increase in net shortwave radiation at the snowpack surface, driving earlier and more rapid melt, however hydrologic models do not explicitly incorporate forest fire disturbance effects to snowpack dynamics. In this study we characterized, parameterized, and validated the postfire snow albedo effect: how the deposition and concentration of charred forest debris decreases snow albedo, increases snow albedo decay rates, and drives an earlier date of snow disappearance. For three study sites in the Oregon High Cascade Mountains, a 2-yr old burned forest, a 10-yr burned forest, and a nearby unburned forest, we used a suite of empirical data to characterize the magnitude and duration of the postfire effect to snow albedo decay. For WY 2012, WY2013, and WY2014 we conducted spectral albedo measurements, snow surface sampling, in-situ snow and meteorological monitoring, and snow energy balance modeling. From these data we developed a new parameterization which represents the postfire effect to snow albedo decay as a function of days-since-snowfall. We validated our parameterization using a physically-based, spatially-distributed snow accumulation and melt model, in-situ snow monitoring, net snowpack radiation, and remote sensing data. We modeled snow dynamics across the extent of all burned area in the headwaters of the McKenzie River Basin and validated the watershed-scale implications of the postfire snow albedo effect using in-situ micrometeorological and remote sensing data. This research quantified the watershed scale postfire effects to snow albedo and snow melt in the Oregon High Cascades, and provided a new parameterization of forest fire effects to high elevation winter water storage.