Preferential deposition of snow and dust over hills: governing processes and relevant scales

F. Comola, M. G. Giometto, S. T. Salesky, M. B. Parlange, M. Lehning

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Preferential deposition of snow and dust over complex terrain is responsible for a wide range of environmental processes and accounts for a significant source of uncertainty in the surface mass balances of cold and arid regions. Despite the growing body of literature on the subject, previous studies reported contradictory results on the location and magnitude of deposition maxima and minima. This study aims at unraveling the governing processes of preferential deposition in a neutrally stable atmosphere and to reconcile seemingly inconsistent results of previous works. For this purpose, a comprehensive modeling approach is developed, based on large eddy simulations of the turbulent airflow, Lagrangian stochastic model of particle trajectories, and immersed boundary method to represent the underlying topography. The model is tested against wind tunnel measurements of dust deposition around isolated and sequential hills. A scale analysis is then performed to investigate the dependence of snowfall deposition on the particle Froude and Stokes numbers, which fully account for the governing processes of inertia, flow advection, and gravity. Model results suggest that different deposition patterns emerge from different combinations of dimensionless parameters, with deposition maxima located either on the windward or the leeward slope of the hill. Additional simulations are performed, to test whether the often used assumption of inertialess particles yields accurate deposition patterns. Results indicate that this assumption can be justified when snowflakes present dendritic shape but may generate unrealistic results for rounded particles. We finally show that our scale analysis provides qualitatively similar results for hills with different aspect ratios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7951-7974
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • atmospheric boundary layer
  • immersed boundary method
  • Lagrangian stochastic model
  • large eddy simulation
  • snowfall
  • turbulence

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