Yale Climate Connections - Jeff Masters Weather Blog

Tree thinning in dense forests could bolster Western snowpack, researchers suggest » Yale Climate Connections


In the Pacific Northwest, melting mountain snowpack slowly runs off into streams and rivers, providing water for the region through spring and summer.

But as the climate warms, snowpack is declining. And it often melts quickly in the spring, leaving less water available in the dry summer months.

Rowan Braybrook is with the nonprofit Northwest Natural Resource Group. Her group is studying ways to increase and prolong snowpack.

“In really dense forests where the canopy is almost continuous, the snow can’t get at the ground very readily,” she says. “And it melts on those darker tree leaves or pine needles.”

So in part of a Washington forest, the team thinned trees that were growing very close together and created small clearings — called gap cuts — where more snow could accumulate.

“At times when the snowpack was completely melted in the dense forest area, … there was still almost a foot of snow left in the thinned area and almost three feet of snow left in the gap cut area,” Braybrook says. “So it was a really significant difference.”

She says the approach could help prolong snowpack and protect water resources as the climate warms.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media

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