Snow and Living Things

William 0. Pruitt, Jr.

Department of Zoology,
The University of Manitoba,
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
R3T 2N2

 

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Pruitt, W.O., Jr. 1984. Snow and Living Things. Chapter 4 (pp. 51-57) in: Olson R., F. Geddes and R. Hastings (Editors). Northern Ecology and Resource Management. Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, pp. xvi + 438.

 

Introduction

In order to study and appreciate the effects of snow on living things, we must be prepared to go beyond the limitations of the English language, because English, having evolved in a misty, maritime climate, is notably deficient in snow terms. Table 1 gives a sample of terms useful in snow ecology. In previous works I defined and discussed a number of terms useful for understanding the ecology of snow (Pruitt 1978, 1979).

The characteristics of a snow cover that are important to living things are duration, thickness, hardness, and density. The latter two characteristics are influenced primarily by wind and the occurrence of winter thaws or freeze-thaw cycles. Thus there are four combinations that agree with four major geographic types of snow cover: (1) steppes and coastal regions with freeze-thaw and wind, (2) tundra with wind but no freeze-thaw, (3) inland southern and maritime regions with freeze-thaw but no wind, and (4) taiga with no freeze-thaw and no wind. For some organisms (i.e., mammals) high mountains constitute a separate ecological realm (Shvarts 1963). Because of variations in height and latitude, however, and because wind has such an influence on the snow cover at high elevations, it seems best to consider the snow cover of high mountains as special cases of categories (1) and (2). All snow on the ground, no matter where it is located, is subject to metamorphosis or changes that modify the crystals and affect the internal physical properties of the snow cover. This paper is concerned particularly with types (2) and (4).

 


 

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