Impact of distributed meteorological forcing on simulated snow cover and hydrological fluxes over a mid-elevation alpine micro-scale catchment

Aniket Gupta, Alix Reverdy, Jean Martial Cohard, Basile Hector, Marc Descloitres, Jean Pierre Vandervaere, Catherine Coulaud, Romain Biron, Lucie Liger, Reed Maxwell, Jean Gabriel Valay, Didier Voisin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


From the micro-to the mesoscale, water and energy budgets of mountainous catchments are largely driven by topographic features such as terrain orientation, slope, steepness, and elevation, together with associated meteorological forcings such as precipitation, solar radiation, and wind speed. Those topographic features govern the snow deposition, melting, and transport, which further impacts the overall water cycle. However, this microscale variability is not well represented in Earth system models due to coarse resolutions. This study explores the impact of precipitation, shortwave radiation, and wind speed on the water budget distribution over a 15.28ĝ€¯ha small, mid-elevation (2000-2200ĝ€¯m) alpine catchment at Col du Lautaret (France). The grass-dominated catchment remains covered with snow for 5 to 6 months per year. The surface-subsurface coupled distributed hydrological model ParFlow-CLM is used at a very high resolution (10ĝ€¯m) to simulate the impacts on the water cycle of meteorological variability at very small spatial and temporal scales. These include 3D simulations of hydrological fluxes with spatially distributed forcing of precipitation, shortwave radiation, and wind speed compared to 3D simulations of hydrological fluxes with non-distributed forcing. Our precipitation distribution method encapsulates the spatial snow distribution along with snow transport. The model simulates the dynamics and spatial variability of snow cover using the Common Land Model (CLM) energy balance module and under different combinations of distributed forcing. The resulting subsurface and surface water transfers are computed by the ParFlow module. Distributed forcing leads to spatially heterogeneous snow cover simulation, which becomes patchy at the end of the melt season and shows a good agreement with the remote sensing images (mean bias error (MBE)ĝ€¯Combining double low lineĝ€¯0.22). This asynchronous melting results in a longer melting period compared to the non-distributed forcing, which does not generate any patchiness. Among the distributed meteorological forcings tested, precipitation distribution, including snow transport, has the greatest impact on spatial snow cover (MBEĝ€¯Combining double low lineĝ€¯0.06) and runoff. Shortwave radiation distribution has an important impact, reducing evapotranspiration as a function of the slope orientation (decreasing the slope between observed and simulated evapotranspiration from 1.55 to 1.18). For the primarily east-facing catchment studied here, distributing shortwave radiation helps generate realistic timing and spatial heterogeneity in the snowmelt at the expense of an increase in the mean bias error (from 0.06 to 0.22) for all distributed forcing simulations compared to the simulation with only distributed precipitation. Distributing wind speed in the energy balance calculation has a more complex impact on our catchment, as it accelerates snowmelt when meteorological conditions are favorable but does not generate snow patches at the end of our test case. This shows that slope-and aspect-based meteorological distribution can improve the spatio-Temporal representation of snow cover and evapotranspiration in complex mountain terrain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Impact of distributed meteorological forcing on simulated snow cover and hydrological fluxes over a mid-elevation alpine micro-scale catchment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this