2010-03-27

Assessing the effects of post-pine beetle forest litter on snow albedo

The effect of forest litter on snow surface albedo has been subject to limited study, mainly in the hardwood-dominated forests of the northeastern United States. Given the recent pine beetle infestation in Western North America and associated increases in litter production, this study examines the effects of forest litter on snow surface albedo in the coniferous forests of south-central British Columbia. Measured changes in canopy transmittance provide an indication of canopy loss or total litterfall over the winter of 2007-2008. Relationships between percent litter cover, an index of albedo, snow depth, and snow ablation during the 2008 melt season are compared between a mature, young, and clearcut coniferous stand. Results indicate a strong feedback effect between canopy loss and subsequent enhanced shortwave transmittance, and litter accumulation on the snow surface from that canopy loss. However, this relationship is confounded by other variables concurrently affecting albedo. While results suggest that a relatively small percent litter cover can have a significant effect on albedo and ablation, further research is underway to extract the litter signal from that of other factors affecting albedo, particularly snow depth.