The smoothing of landscapes during snowfall with no wind

Every winter, snowy landscapes are smoothed by snow deposition in calm conditions (no wind). In this study, we investigated how vertically falling snow attenuates topographic relief at horizontal scales less than or approximately equal to snow depth (e.g., 0.1-10 m). In a set of three experiments under natural snowfall, we observed the particle-scale mechanisms by which smoothing is achieved, and we examined the cumulative effect at the snowpack scale. The experiments consisted of (a) a strobe-light box for tracking the trajectories of snowflakes at deposition, (b) allowing snow to fall through a narrow gap (40 mm) and examining snow accumulation above and below the gap, and (c) allowing snow to accumulate over a set of artificial surfaces. At the particle scale, we observed mechanisms enhancing (bouncing, rolling, ejection, breakage, creep, metamorphism) and retarding (interlocking, cohesion, adhesion, sintering) the rate of smoothing. The cumulative effect of these mechanisms is found to be driven by snowpack surface curvature, introducing a directional bias in the lateral transport of snow particles. Our findings suggest that better quantification of the mechanisms behind smoothing by snow could provide insights into the evolution of snow depth variability, and snow-vegetation interactions.


Filhol, S., Sturm, M.. 2019. The smoothing of landscapes during snowfall with no wind. Journal of Glaciology. 65(50): 173-187. DOI: