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Quantifying Aspect-Dependent Snowpack Response to High-Elevation Wildfire in the Southern Rocky Mountains
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  • Wyatt Reis,
  • Daniel McGrath,
  • Kelly J. Elder,
  • Stephanie K Kampf,
  • David Rey
Wyatt Reis
Colorado State University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Daniel McGrath
Colorado State University
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Kelly J. Elder
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Stephanie K Kampf
Colorado State University
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David Rey
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Increasing wildfire frequency and severity in high-elevation seasonal snow zones presents a considerable water resource management challenge across the western U.S. Wildfires can affect snowpack accumulation and melt patterns, altering the quantity and timing of runoff. While prior research has shown that wildfire generally increases snow melt rates and advances snow disappearance dates, uncertainties remain regarding variations across complex terrain and the energy balance between burned and unburned areas. Utilizing multiple paired in-situ data sources within the 2020 Cameron Peak burn area during the 2021–2022 winter, we found no significant difference in peak snow water equivalent (SWE) magnitude between burned and unburned areas. However, the burned south aspect reached peak SWE 22 days earlier than burned north. During the ablation period, burned south melt rates were 71% greater than unburned south melt rates, whereas burned north melt rates were 94% greater than unburned north aspects. Snow disappeared 7 to 11 days earlier in burned areas than unburned areas. Net energy differences at the burned and unburned AWS sites were seasonally variable, with the burned area losing more energy during the winter but gaining significantly more energy during the spring. Net shortwave radiation was 56% greater at the burned area during the winter and 137% greater during the spring driving a ~60% greater cumulative net energy at the burned site during May. These findings emphasize the need for post-wildfire water resource planning that accounts for aspect-dependent differences in energy and mass balance to accurately predict snowpack storage and runoff timing.
27 Nov 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
03 Dec 2023Published in ESS Open Archive