Cold content is a measure of a snowpack's energy deficit and is a linear function of snowpack mass and temperature. Positive energy fluxes into a snowpack must first satisfy the remaining energy deficit before snowmelt runoff begins, making cold content a key component of the snowpack energy budget. Nevertheless, uncertainty surrounds cold content development and its relationship to snowmelt, likely because of a lack of direct observations. This work clarifies the controls exerted by air temperature, precipitation, and negative energy fluxes on cold content development and quantifies the relationship between cold content and snowmelt timing and rate at daily to seasonal timescales. The analysis presented herein leverages a unique long-term snow pit record along with validated output from the SNOWPACK model forced with 23 water years (1991–2013) of quality controlled, infilled hourly meteorological data from an alpine and subalpine site in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The results indicated that precipitation exerted the primary control on cold content development at our two sites with snowfall responsible for 84.4 and 73.0 % of simulated daily gains in the alpine and subalpine, respectively. A negative surface energy balance – primarily driven by sublimation and longwave radiation emission from the snowpack – during days without snowfall provided a secondary pathway for cold content development, and was responsible for the remaining 15.6 and 27.0 % of cold content additions. Non-zero cold content values were associated with reduced snowmelt rates and delayed snowmelt onset at daily to sub-seasonal timescales, while peak cold content magnitude had no significant relationship to seasonal snowmelt timing. These results suggest that the information provided by cold content observations and/or simulations is most relevant to snowmelt processes at shorter timescales, and may help water resource managers to better predict melt onset and rate.
Jennings, Keith Steven; Kittel, Timothy G.F.; and Molotch, Noah P, "Observations and simulations of the seasonal evolution of snowpack cold content and its relation to snowmelt and the snowpack energy budget" (2018). Geography Faculty Contributions. 38.