The thermodynamic effects of sublimating, blowing snow
in the atmospheric boundary layer

Stephen J. Déry, Peter A. Taylor and Jingbing Xiao


A seasonal snocover blankets much of Canada during wintertime. In such an environment, the frequency of blowing snow events is relatively high and can have important meteorological and hydrological impacts. Apart from the transport of snow, the thermodynamic impact of sublimating blowing snow in air near the surface can be investigated. Using a time or fetch-dependent blowing snow model named "PIEKTUK" that incorporates prognostic equations for a spectrum of sublimating snow particles, plus temperature and humidity distributions, it is found that the sublimation of blowing snow leads to temperature decreases of the order of 0.5oC and significant water vapour increases in the near-surface air. Typical predicted snow removal rates due to sublimation of blowing snow are several millimetres snow water equivalent per day over open Arctic tundra conditions. The model forecast sublimation rates are most sensitive to humidity, as well as wind speed, temperature and particle distributions, with a maximum value in sublimation typically found approximately 1 km downstream from blowing snow initiation. This suggests that the sublimation process is self-limiting despite ongoing transport of snow by wind, yielding significantly lower values of blowing snow sublimation rates (nearly two-thirds less) compared to situations where the thermodynamic feedbacks are neglected. The PIEKTUK model may provide the necessary thermodynamic inputs or blowing snow parameterizations for mesoscale models, allowing the assessment of the contribution of blowing snow fluxes, in more complex situations, to the moisture budgets of high- latitude regions.