Snowpack influences spatial and temporal soil nitrogen dynamics in a western U.S. Montane forested watershed

Yuriko Yano, Claire Qubain, Zach Holyman, Kelsey Jencso, Jia Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Declines in winter snowpack have increased the severity of summer droughts in western U.S. forests, with the potential to also impact soil available nitrogen (N). To understand how snowpack controls spatiotemporal N availability, we examined seasonal N dynamics across elevation, aspect, and topographic position (hollow vs. slope) in a forested watershed in the northern Rocky Mountains. As expected, peak snow-water equivalent (SWE) was generally greater at higher elevations and on north-facing aspects. However, the effects of topographic position and snowdrift led to variability in snow accumulation at smaller spatial scales. Spatial patterns of the snowpack, in turn, influenced soil moisture and temperature, with greater SWE leading to generally higher soil moisture levels during the summer and smaller temperature fluctuations throughout the year. Wetter conditions in spring or fall generally supported greater inorganic N pools, but at the driest locations (low-elevation slope), pulses of N mineralization in summer may have played important roles in overall N dynamics. More importantly, soil moisture during the summer appeared to be more influenced by antecedent snowpack from the previous year than by current-year summer rain. Subsequently, N mineralization under snowpack may be strongly influenced by soil moisture and temperature conditions from the previous fall, before snowpack accumulation. Together, our results indicate that snowpack strongly influences N dynamics beyond the current growing season in western coniferous forests through mediation of soil moisture and temperature, and suggest that further decline in winter snowpack may affect these forests through constraints in both water and N availability.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02794
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Antecedent snow effect
  • Conifer forest
  • Nitrogen availability
  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Snow-water equivalent
  • Snowpack decline


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