, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 839–856 | Cite as

Quantifying Episodic Snowmelt Events in Arctic Ecosystems

  • Stine Højlund Pedersen
  • Glen E. Liston
  • Mikkel P. Tamstorf
  • Andreas Westergaard-Nielsen
  • Niels Martin Schmidt


Rapid and extensive snowmelt occurred during 2 days in March 2013 at a low-Arctic study site in the ice-free part of southwest Greenland. Meteorology, snowmelt, and snow-property observations were used to identify the meteorological conditions associated with this episodic snowmelt event (ESE) occurring prior to the spring snowmelt season. In addition, outputs from the SnowModel snowpack-evolution tool were used to quantify the snow-related consequences of ESEs on ecosystem-relevant snow properties. We estimated a 50–80% meltwater loss of the pre-melt snowpack water content, a 40–100% loss of snow thermal resistance, and a 4-day earlier spring snowmelt snow-free date due to this March 2013 ESE. Furthermore, the accumulated meltwater loss from all ESEs in a hydrological year represented 25–52% of the annual precipitation and may potentially have advanced spring snowmelt by 6–12 days. Guided by the knowledge gained from the March 2013 ESE, we investigated the origin, past occurrences, frequency, and abundance of ESEs at spatial scales ranging from local (using 2008–2013 meteorological station data) to all of Greenland (using 1979–2013 atmospheric reanalysis data). The frequency of ESEs showed large interannual variation, and a maximum number of ESEs was found in southwest Greenland. The investigations suggested that ESEs are driven by foehn winds that are typical of coastal regions near the Greenland Ice Sheet margin. Therefore, ESEs are a common part of snow-cover dynamics in Greenland and, because of their substantial impact on ecosystem processes, they should be accounted for in snow-related ecosystem and climate-change studies.


snow meltwater modeling growing season snow thermal properties foehn upscaling Greenland 



We wish to thank Nuuk Ecological Research Operations and Asiaq, Greenland Survey for providing data and helping us with data collection in March 2013 in Kobbefjord; and NASA for permission to use Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) reanalysis datasets. We offer our special thanks to K. Elder for thorough guidance and recommendations on snow-sampling methods and strategies used during the field campaign. We also thank two anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved this manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge the logistic support of Arctic Research Centre (ARC), Aarhus University. Support was also provided by the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC). This study was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Danish Energy Agency, and it is a contribution to the Arctic Science Partnership (ASP)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stine Højlund Pedersen
    • 1
  • Glen E. Liston
    • 2
  • Mikkel P. Tamstorf
    • 1
  • Andreas Westergaard-Nielsen
    • 3
  • Niels Martin Schmidt
    • 1
  1. 1.Arctic Research Centre, Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  2. 2.Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA)Colorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Center for Permafrost (CENPERM), Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark

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