Snow measurements are an important part of the monitoring done in COAT – snow is indeed an important driver of many processes underlying dynamics of arctic ecosystems. The measurements we do focus on simple measurements of snow depths in different habitats (snowbeds, hummock, meadow, heath), as well as much more detailed assessment of the different layers in the snow cover, particularly the occurrence of ice layers that can prevent small and large herbivores to access food resources. The measurements were done in Vestre Jakobselv and Komagdalen, the two main locations of COAT Varanger. After a 2020 year when only a part of the snow measurements could be done because of covid-19 restrictions, we could this year do the full set of measurements.
Upper left: COAT weather station at Boazoaivi (Reinhaugen), Upper right: Measurements of snow profile structure, Lower right: Hammering down a snow depth probe, Lower left: Little snow at Vestre Jakobselv study area (1m high small exclosures are visible). All photos: COAT.
There was relatively little snow in Vestre Jakobselv compared to average, with little ice or ice-crusted snow near the ground but some crust layers higher up in the snow column. In many of the heath and hummock tundra plots there was a well-developed layer of depth hoar. What was striking this year was the very windy conditions that dominated during our stay as well as previous weeks, that resulted in a snow landscape dominated by hard snowdrifts and two full days indoor in the very comfortable Skoarrojohka field station. In a calm evening, we saw fresh tracks of a pair of arctic foxes that had crossed our scooter tracks near Reinhaugen. We observed often flocks of willow ptarmigan in the willow thickets areas - the largest with approx. 50-60 birds. There was a group of 4 reindeer on Reinhaugen. We found pellets of hares on quite a few locations.
In between storms that set Hubehytta shaking on its foundations, we were also able to conduct all snow measurements in Komagdalen. The overall impression was that it also here was relatively little snow, almost bare ground in some areas due to wind. In some places, the snow was so wind packed that a hammer was needed to pound the probe through concrete snow layers (picture). But in the bottom of the snowpack, we found soft layers of depth hoar that meant favorable digging conditions for rodents spending the winter sheltered from the storms above. Still, no rodent activity was registered above or below the snow, as can be explained by the current low phase of the rodent cycle. Above the snow, animal life was abundant. We saw moose, reindeer, ptarmigan, a golden eagle and a wolverine, but no foxes this year.