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Rainwater propagation through snowpack during rain-on-snow sprinkling experiments under different snow conditions

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Juras Roman, Würzer Sebastian, Pavlásek Jirka, Vitvar Tomás, Jonas Tobias,
Project Snow resources and the early prediction of hydrological drought in mountainous streams
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
Volume (Issue) 21
Page(s) 4973 - 4987
Title of proceedings Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
DOI 10.5194/hess-21-4973-2017

Open Access


The mechanisms of rainwater propagation and runoff generation during rain-on-snow (ROS) events are still insufficiently known. Understanding storage and transport of liquid water in natural snowpacks is crucial, especially for forecasting of natural hazards such as floods and wet snow avalanches. In this study, propagation of rainwater through snow was investigated by sprinkling experiments with deuterium-enriched water and applying an alternative hydrograph separation technique on samples collected from the snowpack runoff. This allowed us to quantify the contribution of rainwater, snowmelt and initial liquid water released from the snowpack. Four field experiments were carried out during winter 2015 in the vicinity of Davos, Switzerland. Blocks of natural snow were isolated from the surrounding snowpack to inhibit lateral exchange of water and were exposed to artificial rainfall using deuterium-enriched water. The experiments were composed of four 30 min periods of sprinkling, separated by three 30 min breaks. The snowpack runoff was continuously gauged and sampled periodically for the deuterium signature. At the onset of each experiment antecedent liquid water was first pushed out by the sprinkling water. Hydrographs showed four pronounced peaks corresponding to the four sprinkling bursts. The contribution of rainwater to snowpack runoff consistently increased over the course of the experiment but never exceeded 86 %. An experiment conducted on a non-ripe snowpack suggested the development of preferential flow paths that allowed rainwater to efficiently propagate through the snowpack limiting the time for mass exchange processes to take effect. In contrast, experiments conducted on ripe isothermal snowpack showed a slower response behaviour and resulted in a total runoff volume which consisted of less than 50 % of the rain input.