Frontiers of Earth Science

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 505–514 | Cite as

Spatio-temporal snowmelt variability across the headwaters of the Southern Rocky Mountains

  • S. R. Fassnacht
  • J. I. López-Moreno
  • C. Ma
  • A. N. Weber
  • A. K. D. Pfohl
  • S. K. Kampf
  • M. Kappas
Research Article


Understanding the rate of snowmelt helps inform how water stored as snow will transform into streamflow. Data from 87 snow telemetry (SNOTEL) stations across the Southern Rocky Mountains were used to estimate spatio-temporal melt factors. Decreases in snow water equivalent were correlated to temperature at these monitoring stations for eight half-month periods from early March through late June. Time explained 70% of the variance in the computed snow melt factors. A residual linear correlation model was used to explain subsequent spatial variability. Longitude, slope, and land cover type explained further variance. For evergreen trees, canopy density was relevant to find enhanced melt rates; while for all other land cover types, denoted as non-evergreen, lower melt rates were found at high elevation, high latitude and north facing slopes, denoting that in cold environments melting is less effective than in milder sites. A change in the temperature sensor about mid-way through the time series (1990 to 2013) created a discontinuity in the temperature dataset. An adjustment to the time series yield larger computed melt factors.


melt SWE temperature SNOTEL temperature sensor change 


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Thanks are due to the Colorado State Snow Survey office provided the GPS coordinates for the SNOTEL stations. Some of Fassnacht’s time was supported by the NASATerrestrial Hydrology Program (grant #NNX11AQ66G, Principal Investigator M. F. Jasinski, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Additional support was provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board project entitled “Evaluating the Time Series Discontinuity of the NRCS Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) Temperature Data across Colorado.” Weber was supported by the Honors program at CSU. The authors thank CSU Professor John D. Stednick for his input with this document. Thanks are also due to Karen Burke for her discussions early in this work. We also thank two anonymous reviewers who provided insightful comments that helped reshape this paper.


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Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. R. Fassnacht
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • J. I. López-Moreno
    • 6
  • C. Ma
    • 1
  • A. N. Weber
    • 1
  • A. K. D. Pfohl
    • 7
  • S. K. Kampf
    • 1
    • 4
  • M. Kappas
    • 5
  1. 1.ESS-Watershed ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Cooperative Institute for Research in the AtmosphereFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Geospatial Centroid at CSUFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Natural Resources Ecology LaboratoryFort CollinsUSA
  5. 5.Geographisches InstitutGeorg-August-Universität GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  6. 6.Instituto Pirenaico de EcologíaCSIC, Campus de Aula DeiZaragozaSpain
  7. 7.EASC-Watershed ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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