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Snowmelt Timing as a Determinant of Lake Inflow Mixing

Authors
  • Roberts, DC
  • Forrest, AL
  • Sahoo, GB
  • Hook, SJ
  • Schladow, SG
Publication Date
Feb 01, 2018
Source
eScholarship - University of California
Keywords
License
Unknown
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Abstract

Snowmelt is a significant source of carbon, nutrient, and sediment loads to many mountain lakes. The mixing conditions of snowmelt inflows, which are heavily dependent on the interplay between snowmelt and lake thermal regime, dictate the fate of these loads within lakes and their ultimate impact on lake ecosystems. We use five decades of data from Lake Tahoe, a 600 year residence-time lake where snowmelt has little influence on lake temperature, to characterize the snowmelt mixing response to a range of climate conditions. Using stream discharge and lake profile data (1968–2017), we find that the proportion of annual snowmelt entering the lake prior to the onset of stratification increases as annual snowpack decreases, ranging from about 50% in heavy-snow years to close to 90% in warm, dry years. Accordingly, in 8 recent years (2010–2017) where hourly inflow buoyancy and discharge could be quantified, we find that decreased snowpack similarly increases the proportion of annual snowmelt entering the lake at weak to positive buoyancy. These responses are due to the stronger effect of winter precipitation conditions on streamflow timing and temperature than on lake stratification, and point toward increased nearshore and near-surface mixing of inflows in low-snowpack years. The response of inflow mixing conditions to snowpack is apparent when isolating temperature effects on snowpack. Snowpack levels are decreasing due to warming temperatures during winter precipitation. Thus, our findings suggest that climate change may lead to increased deposition of inflow loads in the ecologically dynamic littoral zone of high-residence time, snowmelt-fed lakes.

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