Skip to main content Accessibility help

A snow-transport model for complex terrain

  • Glen E. Liston (a1) and Matthew Sturm (a2)


As part of the winter environment in middle- and high-latitude regions, the interactions between wind, vegetation, topography and snowfall produce snow covers of non-uniform depth and snow water-equivalent distribution. A physically based numerical snow-transport model (SnowTran-3D) is developed and used to simulate this three-dimensional snow-depth evolution over topographically variable terrain. The mass-transport model includes processes related to vegetation snow-holding capacity, topographic modification of wind speeds, snow-cover shear strength, wind-induced surface-shear stress, snow transport resulting from saltation and suspension, snow accumulation and erosion, and sublimation of the blowing and drifting snow. The model simulates the cold-season evolution of snow-depth distribution when forced with inputs of vegetation type and topography, and atmospheric foreings of air temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and precipitation. Model outputs include the spatial and temporal evolution of snow depth resulting from variations in precipitation, saltation and suspension transport, and sublimation. Using 4 years of snow-depth distribution observations from the foothills north of the Brooks Range in Arctic Alaska, the model is found to simulate closely the observed snow-depth distribution patterns and the interannual variability.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      A snow-transport model for complex terrain
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      A snow-transport model for complex terrain
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      A snow-transport model for complex terrain
      Available formats



Hide All
Benson, C. S. 1982. Reassessment of winter precipitation on Alaska’s Arctic Slope and measurements on the flux of wind blown snow. Fairbanks, Alaska, September, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska. (Report 288.)
Benson, C. S. and Sturm, M.. 1993. Structure and wind transport of seasonal snow on the Arctic slope of Alaska. Ann. Glaciol., 18, 261267.
Berg, N. H. and Caine, N.. 1975. Prediction of natural snowdrift accumulation In alpine areas. Final report to Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Boulder, CO, University of Colorado. Department of Geography; Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. (USFS 19388-CA.)
Bintanja, R. 1998a. The interaction between drifting snow and atmospheric turbulence. Ann. Glaciol., 26, 167173.
Bintanja, R. 1998b. The contribution of snowdrift sublimation to the surface mass balance of Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 27, 251259.
Budd, W. F., Dingle, R. J. and Radok, U.. 1966. The Byrd Snow Drift Project: outline and basic results. In Rubin, M. J., ed. Studies In Antarctic meteorology. Washington, DC, American Geophysical Union, 71–134. (Antarctic Research Series 9.)
Burridge, D. M. and Gadd, A. J.. 1974. The Meteorological Office operational 10 level numerical weather prediction model (December 1974). Bracknell, Berks., British Meteorological Office. (Technical Notes 12 and 48.)
Déry, S. J. and Taylor, P. A.. 1996. Some aspects of the interaction of blowing snow with the atmospheric boundary layer. Hydrol. Processes, 10, 13451358.
Duffie, J. A. and Beckman, W. A.. 1994. Solar energy thermal processes. New York, Wiley and Sons.
Evans, B. M., Walker, D. A., Benson, C. S., Nordstrand, E. A. and Petersen, G. W.. 1989. Spatial interrelationships between terrain, snow distribution and vegetation patterns at an Arctic Foothills site in Alaska. Holarctic Ecology, 12 (3), 270278.
Finney, E. A. 1939. Snow drift control by highway design. In. Michigan State College Engineering Experiment Station, (Bulletin 86.)
Fleagle, R. G. and Businger, J. A.. 1980. An introduction to atmospheric physics. New York, Academic Press.
Goodison, B. E. 1981. Compatibility of Canadian snowfall and snow cover data. Water Resour. Res., 17 (4), 893900.
Greeley, R. and Iversen, D.. 1985. Wind as a geological process an Earth, Mars, Venus and Titan. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Hall, D. K. 1988. Assessment of Polar climate change using satellite technology. Rev. Geophys., 26 (1), 2639.
Hare, F. K. and Hay, J. E.. 1971. The climate of Canada and Alaska. In Bryson, R. A. and Hare, F. K., eds. Climates of North America. Amsterdam, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Co., 49–192. (World Survey of Climatology 11.)
Hinzman, L. D., Kane, D. L., Benson, C. S. and Everett, K. R.. 1996. Energy balance and hydrological processes in an Arctic watershed. In J. F., Reynolds and Tenhunen, J. D.. eds. Landscape function: implications for ecosystem response to disturbance. A case study In Arctic tundra. New York, Springer-Verlag, 131–154. (Ecologic Studies Series 120.)
Iversen, J. D. 1981. Comparison of wind-tunnel model and full-scale snow fence drifts. Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, 8, 231249.
Kane, D. L., Hinzman, L. D., Benson, C. S. and Liston, G. E.. 1991. Snow hydrology of a headwater Arctic basin. 1. Physical measurements and process studies. Water Resour. Res., 27 (6), 10991109.
Kikuchi, T. 1981. A wind tunnel study of the aerodynamic roughness associated with drifting snow. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol., 5 (2), 107118.
Kind, R. J. 1976. A critical examination of the requirements for model simulation of wind-induced erosion/deposition phenomena such as snow drifting. Atmos. Environ., 10 (3), 219227.
Kind, R. J. 1992. One-dimensional aeolian suspension above beds of loose particles — a new concentration-profile equation. Atmos. Environ., 26A (5), 927931.
Kobayashi, D. 1972. Studies of snow transport in low-level drifting snow. Contrib. Inst. Low Temp. Sci., Ser. A 24, 158.
Kobayashi, S. 1979. Studies on interaction between wind and dry snow surface. Contrib. Inst. Low Temp. Sci., Ser. A 29, 164.
König, M. 1997. Mapping snow distribution In the Alaskan Arctic using air photos and topographical relationships. (M.Sc thesis, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK.)
Kreutz, W., Schubach, K. and Walter, W.. 1955. Untersuchungen über die geländeklimatischen Verhältnisse der Gemarkung Dieburg und über Wind- und Temperaturverhaltnisse in den Germarkungen Hausen und Langenseifen im Unteraunuskrieis mit der Zielsetzung ihrer Verbesserung durch Windschutzbedurftigkeit. Archiv für Raumf. Hessen., 1, 146.
Lee, L. W. 1975. Sublimation of snow In turbulent atmosphere. (Ph.D. thesis, University of Wyoming, Laramie. WY.)
Liston, G. E. 1986. Seasonal snow cover of the foothills region of Alaska’s Arctic Slope: a survey of properties and processes. (M.Sc. thesis, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK.)
Liston, G. E. 1991. A computational model of two-phase, turbulent atmospheric boundary layers containing blowing snow. (Ph.D. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT.)
Liston, G. E. 1995. Local advection of momentum, heat, and moisture daring the melt of patchy snow covers. J. Appl. Meteorol., 34 (7), 17051715.
Liston, G. E., Brown, R. L. and Dent, J. D.. 1993a. Application of the E – ε turbulence closure model to separated atmospheric surface layer flows. Boundary-Layer Meteorol., 66 (3), 281301.
Liston, G. E., Brown, R. L. and Dent, J. D.. 1993b. A two-dimensional computational model of turbulent atmospheric surface flows with drifting snow. Ann. Glaciol., 18, 281286.
Maeno, N. and 8 others. 1985. Wind-tunnel experiments on blowing snow. Ann. Glaciol., 6, 6367.
Male, D. H. 1980. The seasonal snowcover. In Colbeck, S. C., ed. Dynamics of snow and ice masses. New York, Academic Press, 305395.
McKenna-Neuman, C. and Nickling, W. G.. 1994. Momentum extraction with saltation: implications for experimental evaluation of wind profile parameters. Boundary-Layer Meteorol., 68 (1–2), 3550.
Mellor, M. 1965. Blowing snow. CRREL Monogr. III-A3c.
Murray, F. W. 1967. On the saturation vapor pressure. J. Appl. Meteorol., 6 (1), 203204.
Nägeli, W. 1971. Der wind als Standortsfaktor bei Aufforstungen in der subalpinen stufe. (Stillbergalp im Dischmatal, Kanton Graubünden.) Mitt. Schweiz. Anst. Forstl. Vers’wes., 47, 33147.
Owen, P. R. 1964. Saltation of uniform grains in air. J. Fluid Mech., 20 (2), 225242.
Pielke, R. A. and 10 others. 1992. A comprehensive meteorological modeling system — RAMS. Meteorol. Atmos. Phys., 49 (1–4), 6991.
Pomeroy, J. W. 1988. Wind transport of snow. (Ph.D. thesis, Division of Hydrology, Faculty of Engineering, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.)
Pomeroy, J. W. 1989. A process-based model of snow drifting. Ann. Glaciol., 13, 237240.
Pomeroy, J. W. and Gray, D. M.. 1990. Saltation of snow. Water Resour. Res., 26 (7), 15831594.
Pomeroy, J. W. and Gray, D. M.. 1995. Snowcover: accumulation, relocation and management. Saskatoon, Sask., Environment Canada. National Hydrology Research Institute. (HHRI Science Report 4.)
Pomeroy, J. W., Gray, D. M. and Landine, P. G.. 1993. The prairie blowing snow model: characteristics, validation, operation. J. Hydrol., 144 (1–4), 165192.
Pomeroy, J. W. and Male, D. H.. 1986. Physical modelling of blowing snow for agricultural production. In Steppuhn, H. and Nicholaichuk, W., eds. Proceedings of the Symposium, Snow Management for Agriculture, 1985, Swift Current, Saskatchewan. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 73–108. (Great Plains Agricultural Council Publication 120.)
Pomeroy, J. W., Marsh, P. and Gray, D. M.. 1997. Application of a distributed blowing snow model to the Arctic. Hydrol. Processes, 11, 14511464.
Purves, R. S., Barton, J. S., Mackaness, W. A. and Sugden, D. E.. 1998. The development of a rule-based spatial model of wind transport and deposition of snow. Ann. Glaciol., 26, 196202.
Radok, U. 1977. Snow drift. J. Glaciol., 19 (81), 123139.
Ross, D. G., Smith, I. N., Manins, P. C. and Fox, D. G.. 1988. Diagnostic wind field modeling for complex terrain: model development and testing. J. Appl. Meteorol., 27 (7), 785796.
Ryan, B. C. 1977. A mathematical model for diagnosis and prediction of surface winds in mountainous terrain. J. Appl. Meteorol., 16 (6), 571584.
Schmidt, R. A. 1980. Threshold wind-speeds and elastic impact in snow transport. J. Glaciol., 26 (94), 453467.
Schmidt, R. A. 1982. Vertical profiles of wind speed, snow concentration and humidity in blowing snow. Boundary-Layer Meteorol., 23 (2), 223246.
Schmidt, R. A. 1986. Transport rate of drifting snow and the mean wind speed profile. Boundary-Layer Meteorol., 34 (3), 213241.
Schmidt, R. A. 1991. Sublimation of snow intercepted by an artificial conifer. Agric. Forest Meteorol., 54 (1), 127.
Schmidt, R. A., Jr. 1972. Sublimation of wind-transported snow — a model. U. S. For. Serv. Res. Pap. RM-90.
Sherman, C. A. 1978. A mass-consistent model for wind fields over complex terrain. J. Appl. Meteorol., 17 (3), 312319.
Sundsbø, P.-A. 1997. Numerical modelling and simulation of snow drift. (Ph.D. thesis, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim; Narvik Institute of Technology, Department of Building Science, Narvik.)
Tabler, R. D. 1975a. Estimating the transport and evaporation of blowing snow. In Snow Management on the Great Plains. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska, 85–105. (Great Plains Agricultural Council Publication 73.)
Tabler, R. D. 1975b. Predicting profiles of snowdrifts In topographic catchments. Proc. West. Snow Conf., 43rd Annual Meeting, 23–25 April 1975, Coronado, California, 8797.
Tabler, R. D. 1980. Geometry and density of drifts formed by snow fences. J. Glaciol., 26 (94), 405419.
Tabler, R. D. 1987. Slide rule for snow fence design. Proc. West. Snow Conf., 55th Annual Meeting, 14–16 April 1987, Vancouver, British Columbia, 162165.
Tabler, R. D., Benson, C. S., Santana, B. W. and Ganguly, P., 1990. Estimating snow transport from wind speed records: estimates versus measurements at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Proc. West. Snow Conf., 58th Annual Meeting, 17–19 April 1990, Sacramento, California, 6172.
Tabler, R. D. and Jairell, R. L.. 1980. Studying snowdrifting problems with small-scale model outdoors. Proc. West. Snow Conf., 48th Annual Meeting, 15–17 April 1980, Laramie, Wyoming, 113.
Tabler, R. D. and Schmidt, R. A.. 1986. Snow erosion, transport, and deposition in relation to agriculture. In Steppuhn, H. and Nicholaichuk, W., eds. Proceedings of the Symposium, Snow Management for Agriculture, 1985, Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Lincoln, University of Nebraska, 11–58. (Great Plains Agricultural Council Publication 120.)
Takeuchi, M. 1980. Vertical profile and horizontal increase of drill-snow transport. J. Glaciol., 26 (94), 481492.
Thorpe, A. D. and Mason, B. J.. 1966. The evaporation of ice spheres and ice crystals. J., Appl. Phys., 17 (4), 541548.
Uematsu, T., Nakata, T., Takeuchi, K., Arisawa, Y. and Kaneda, Y.. 1991. Three-dimensional numerical simulation of snowdrift. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol., 20 (1), 6573.
Wahrhaftig, C. 1965. Physiographic divisions of Alaska. U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. 482.
Yoshino, M. M. 1975. Climate In a small area. Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed