Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MSc)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Philip Marsh

Advisor Role



Arctic tundra environments are characterized by spatially heterogeneous end-of-winter snow cover because of high winds that erode, transport and deposit snow over the winter. This spatially variable end-of-winter snow cover subsequently influences the spatial and temporal variability of snowmelt and results in a patchy snowcover over the melt period. Documenting changes in both snow cover area (SCA) and snow water equivalent (SWE) during the spring melt is essential for understanding hydrological systems, but the lack of high-resolution SCA and SWE datasets that accurately capture micro-scale changes are not commonly available, and do not exist for the Canadian Arctic. This study applies high-resolution remote sensing measurements of SCA and SWE using a fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to document snowcover changes over the snowmelt period for an Arctic tundra headwater catchment. Repeat measurements of SWE and SCA were obtained for four dominant land cover types (tundra, short shrub, tall shrub, and topographic drift) to provide observations of spatially distributed snowmelt patterns and basin-wide declines in SWE. High-resolution analysis of snowcover conditions over the melt reveal a strong relationship between land cover type, snow distribution, and snow ablation rates whereby shallow snowpacks found in tundra and short shrub regions feature rapid declines in SWE and SCA and became snow-free approximately 10 days earlier than deeper snowpacks. In contrast, tall shrub patches and topographic drift regions were characterized by large initial SWE values and featured a slow decline in SCA. Analysis of basin-wide declines in SCA and SWE reveal three distinct melt phases characterized by 1) low melt rates across a large area resulting in a minor change in SCA, but a very large decline in SWE with, 2) high melt rates resulting in drastic declines in both SCA and SWE, and 3) low melt rates over a small portion of the basin, resulting in little change to either SCA or SWE. The ability to capture high-resolution spatio-temporal changes to tundra snow cover furthers our understanding of the relative importance of various land cover types on the snowmelt timing and amount of runoff available to the hydrological system during the spring freshet.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Hydrology Commons