06 Feb 2023
 | 06 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Snow-vegetation-atmosphere interactions in alpine tundra

Norbert Pirk, Kristoffer Aalstad, Yeliz A. Yilmaz, Astrid Vatne, Andrea L. Popp, Peter Horvath, Anders Bryn, Ane Victoria Vollsnes, Sebastian Westermann, Terje Koren Berntsen, Frode Stordal, and Lena Merete Tallaksen

Abstract. The interannual variability of snow cover in alpine areas is increasing, which may affect the tightly coupled cycles of carbon and water through snow-vegetation-atmosphere interactions across a range of spatio-temporal scales. To explore the role of snow cover for the land-atmosphere exchange of CO2 and water vapor in alpine tundra ecosystems, we combined three years (2019–2021) of continuous eddy covariance flux measurements of net ecosystem exchange of CO2 (NEE) and evapotranspiration (ET) from the Finse site in alpine Norway (1210 m a.s.l.) with a ground-based ecosystem-type classification and satellite imagery from Sentinel-2, Landsat 8, and MODIS. While the snow conditions in 2019 and 2021 can be described as site-typical, 2020 features an extreme snow accumulation associated with a strong negative phase of the Scandinavian Pattern of the synoptic atmospheric circulation during spring. This extreme snow accumulation caused a one-month delay in melt-out date, which falls on the 92nd-percentile in the distribution of yearly melt-out dates in the period 2001–2021. The melt-out dates follow a consistent fine-scale spatial relationship with ecosystem types across years. Mountain and lichen heathlands melt out more heterogeneously than fens and flood plains, while late snowbeds melt out up to one month later than the other ecosystem types. While the summertime average Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) was reduced considerably during the extreme snow year 2020, it reached the same maximum as in the other years for all but one the ecosystem type (late snowbeds), indicating that the delayed onset of vegetation growth is compensated to the same maximum productivity. Eddy covariance estimates of NEE and ET are gap-filled separately for two wind sectors using a random forest regression model to account for complex and nonlinear ecohydrological interactions. While the two wind sectors differ markedly in vegetation composition and flux magnitudes, their flux response is controlled by the same drivers as estimated by the predictor importance of the random forest model as well as the high correlation of flux magnitudes (correlation coefficient r = 0.92 for NEE and r = 0.89 for ET) between both areas. The one-month delay of the start of the snow-free season in 2020 reduced the total annual ET by 50 % compared to 2019 and 2021, and reduced the growing season carbon assimilation to turn the ecosystem from a moderate annual carbon sink (−31 to −6 gC m−2 yr−1) to a source (34 to 20 gC m−2 yr−1). These results underpin the strong dependence of ecosystem structure and functioning on snow dynamics, whose anomalies can result in important ecological extreme events for alpine ecosystems.

Norbert Pirk et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2023-21', Anonymous Referee #1, 14 Mar 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2023-21', Anonymous Referee #2, 18 Mar 2023

Norbert Pirk et al.

Norbert Pirk et al.


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Short summary
We measured land-atmosphere exchange of CO2 and water vapor in alpine Norway over three years. Using remote sensing, 2020 is identified as an extremely snow-rich year, which reduced the total annual evapotranspiration to 50 % and reduced the growing season carbon assimilation to turn the ecosystem from a moderate annual carbon sink to an even stronger source. Our analysis suggests that snow cover anomalies are driving the most consequential structural shifts in alpine tundra in Norway.