Item: Characteristics of artificial snow and its effect on vegetation
Title: Characteristics of artificial snow and its effect on vegetation
Proceedings: Proceedings of the 2000 International Snow Science Workshop, October 1-6, Big Sky, Montana
Authors: Veronika Stockli and Christian Rixen, Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland
Abstract: The winter and early spring environment of plants under ski slopes is physically and chemically changed due to grooming and the addition of artificial snow. As the vegetation cover and hence alternative land uses (agriculture) or laws may be affected, it is important to know a potential impact on the ecosystem. To relate and explain plant performance with snow cover characteristics, we investigate their interactions in alpine ski areas. In winter 1999/2000 we studied snow depth, density and soil surface temperature in ten different ski areas in the Swiss Alps. In summer 2000, a vegetation survey was performed in the same place. To achieve paired data, we studied both artificial ski slope and adjacent ungroomed natural snow cover as a control in every ski area. Snow depth and snow density showed considerable differences between slopes and control plots. The snow cover on artificial ski slopes reached on average 120% of the natural snow cover. Similarly, density of the ski slopes was 135% higher than in the nearby natural snow. Temperature measured on the soil surface showed no consistent difference between artificial snow ski slope and natural snow. However in spring, the snow stayed 19 days longer on the slopes. Overall comparison of the vegetation relevees showed no difference in number of species between artificial snow and control. But, vegetation cover of functional groups was distinctly changed. The amount of herbs and small shrubs was reduced, while legumes showed a higher cover on artificial snow slopes. Similarly, the amount of open soil was increased on slopes. The physical conditions of the snow cover on ski slopes are much changed through grooming and addition of artificial snow. A change in species composition indicates that some plant species may profit of the changed winter environment, while others are suppressed. Further experiments will be performed, to reveal specifically cause and effect of artificial snow and grooming on alpine plants. On base of this information, we finally will develop methods of environmentally sound ski slope preparation.
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Keywords: artificial snow, snow density, snow depth, ski slopes, temperature, vegetation
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