Hydrological Processes, Volume 31, Issue 24

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A modelling framework to simulate field-scale nitrate response and transport during snowmelt: The WINTRA model
Diogo Costa | Jennifer Roste | John W. Pomeroy | Helen M. Baulch | J. M. Elliott | H. S. Wheater | Cherie J. Westbrook

Modeling nutrient transport during snowmelt in cold regions remains a major scientific challenge. A key limitation of existing nutrient models for application in cold regions is the inadequate representation of snowmelt, including hydrological and biogeochemical processes. This brief period can account for more than 80% of the total annual surface runoff in the Canadian Prairies and Northern Canada and processes such as atmospheric deposition, over-winter redistribution of snow, ion exclusion from snow crystals, frozen soils, and snowcovered area depletion during melt influence the distribution and release of snow and soil nutrients, thus affecting the timing and magnitude of snowmelt runoff nutrient concentrations.Research in cold regions suggests that nitrate (NO3) runoff at the field scale can be divided into five phases during snowmelt. In the first phase, water and ions originating from ion-rich snow layers travel and diffuse through the snowpack. This process causes ion concentrations in runoff to gradually increase. The second phase occurs when this snow ion meltwater front has reached the bottom of the snowpack and forms runoff to the edge-of-the-field (EOF). During the third and fourth phases, the main source of NO3 transitions from the snowpack to the soil. Finally, the fifth and last phase occurs when the snow has completely melted, and the thawing soil becomes the main source of NO3 to the stream.In this research, a process-based model was developed to simulate hourly export based on this five-phase approach. Results from an application in the Red River Basin of southern Manitoba, Canada shows that the model can adequately capture the dynamics and rapid changes of NO3 concentrations during this period at relevant temporal resolutions. This is a significant achievement to advance the current nutrient modeling paradigm in cold climates, which is generally limited to satisfactory results at monthly or annual resolutions. The approach can inform catchment-scale nutrient models to improve simulation of this critical snowmelt period.Nutrient exports Winter Snow Nitrate Agriculture Nutrient model