, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 151-174

Snow depth manipulation and its influence on soil frost and water dynamics in a northern hardwood forest

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Abstract

Climate change will likelyresult in warmer winter temperatures leading toless snowfall in temperate forests. Thesechanges may lead to increases in soil freezingbecause of lack of an insulating snow cover andchanges in soil water dynamics during theimportant snowmelt period. In this study, wemanipulated snow depth by removing snow for twowinters, simulating the late development of thesnowpack as may occur with global warming, toexplore the relationships between snow depth,soil freezing, soil moisture, and infiltration.We established four sites, each with two pairedplots, at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest(HBEF) in New Hampshire, U.S.A. and instrumentedall eight plots with soil and snow thermistors,frost tubes, soil moisture probes, and soillysimeters. For two winters, we removed snowfrom the designated treatment plots untilFebruary. Snow in the reference plots wasundisturbed. The treatment winters (1997/1998 and1998/1999) were relatively mild, withtemperatures above the seasonal norm and snowdepths below average. Results show the treatedplots accumulated significantly less snow andhad more extensive soil frost than referenceplots. Snow depth was a strong regulator ofsoil temperature and frost depth at all sites.Soil moisture measured by time domainreflectometry probes and leaching volumescollected in lysimeters were lower in thetreatment plots in March and April compared tothe rest of the year. The ratio of leachatevolumes collected in the treatment plots tothat in the reference plots decreased as thesnow ablation seasons progressed. Our data showthat even mild winters with low snowfall,simulated by snow removal, will result inincreased soil freezing in the forests at theHBEF. Our results suggest that a climate shifttoward less snowfall or a shorter duration ofsnow on the ground will produce increases insoil freezing in northern hardwood forests.Increases in soil freezing will haveimplications for changes in soil biogeochemicalprocesses.