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WIREs Water
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Snow redistribution for the hydrological modeling of alpine catchments

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Modeling snow redistribution by wind and avalanches in hydrological studies in alpine catchments is important, as the spatial variability of the snow cover has an impact on timing and magnitude of the snowmelt runoff. Disregarding snow redistribution in models can lead to the formation of ‘snow towers,’ i.e., multi‐year accumulation of snow at high elevations and an incorrect water balance. The reviewed approaches to deal with snow redistribution in hydrological models were first broadly grouped by the represented physical processes: (1) the correction of the precipitation input data to account mainly for preferential deposition, (2) the description of all wind‐driven processes based on wind field data, (3) the description of gravitational transports and/or wind‐driven processes based on topographic information, and (4) the statistical description of the variability of the snow water equivalent (SWE) to account for all types of snow redistribution. The review further assessed the implementation of these approaches in physically based and bucket‐type hydrological models. Generally, snow redistribution consideration has improved the simulation of snow patterns and SWE and consequently the prediction of discharge in mountain catchments worldwide. Snow redistribution approaches still have some limitations and a large gap exists between the knowledge and processes in highly detailed physically based snow models and the widely used bucket‐type hydrological models used for water resources and climate change studies. There is a real need to bridge this gap using the knowledge earned by snow redistribution modeling with established physically based models to develop more conceptual approaches for the application in bucket‐type models. WIREs Water 2017, 4:e1232. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1232 This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Science of Water > Methods Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
Hypothetical impact of snow redistribution on runoff generation. In case A, snow is evenly distributed on the ground and melt processes occur simultaneously and uniformly. In cases B and C, snow was redistributed and is therefore unevenly distributed leading to a shift in the melting of the snow. One part of the area is at some point not snow covered anymore and does not generate snowmelt, while the other part is still snow covered and will need more energy and time to continue melting and to release the same water volume.
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Classification of all reviewed studies based on their spatial resolution and the types of model approaches used, i.e., correction of precipitation input data, use of measured or parameterized wind fields, use of topographic information, and statistical approaches. The size of the circles, triangles, and squares represents the number of reviewed publications with a given model explicitly taking snow redistribution into account. For a list of the model labels, see Tables S1–S3.
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Implementation of the snow redistribution approaches A1–A4 in snowmelt runoff or hydrological models.
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Comparison of modeled and observed mean SWE values for the Alpbach catchment for the period 1901–2006. The model was used (a) without snow redistribution and (b) with snow redistribution. Mean error (MESWE) of SWE, correlation coefficient (rSWE), and Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency for the discharge (NSEDischarge) are given for both model runs.
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Schematic representation of modeled snow cover resulting after several years in a snow tower at high elevation if snow redistribution is ignored in hydrological models.
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Schematic representation of the three major processes causing snow redistribution.
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Science of Water > Hydrological Processes
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