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Study of Snow Cover Profile

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 2001

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Study of Snow Cover ProfileThis manual describes the main functions and features of snow cover, and a procedure for snow survey along a landscape profile. The activity includes location of survey sites, establishment of snow exploring shaft, determination of snow layers according to a number of visual characteristics, their measurement and description.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


One of the most important landscape characteristics in winter are the properties of snow cover – its thickness and density, as well as depth of the frost zone at different sites. It is well known that preservation of seeds and sprouts from winterkill as well as the wintering success of many animal species depends on the depth of the soil frost zone.

Depth of the seasonal frost zone is of great importance, as it influences peculiarities of spring soil erosion causing destruction of soil structure. Unfortunately, the study of permafrost is complicated by its laboriousness and use of specific equipment, for example, the soil probe. Thus, this educational activity will be focused on snow – i.e. peculiarities of its distribution along the relief forms and under different vegetation types, structure of snow cover and study of snow's role in landscape function.

The activity is aimed at revealing the dependence of the thickness and structure of snow cover upon relief forms and vegetation type. It is known that snow cover is thinner and distributed unevenly in coniferous forests.

In contrast, the distribution of snow in deciduous forests is thicker and more evenly distributed. In comparing a forest and an open site, it turns out that wind is much lighter in forests than in open areas, so snow is not blown off the soil surface. Thus, snow cover in forests is characterized by a more even distribution than in the field, for instance, where wind differentiates thickness of the snow cover by stripping rises and filling up relief depressions with snow.

In order to complete the task, students will require shovels (for unearthing snow), rulers (it is recommended to use long rulers – for the full depth of the snow cover) or measuring tapes, description forms (soil description forms can be used) or field logs, compasses and some other materials at hand (sticks, blades and matches).

The teacher should explain the main functions and properties of the snow cover before the activities, and students should be taught how to measure and describe the snow cover prior to independent studies.

Main functions of snow cover

The role of snow in the function of an environment is especially obvious when air temperature falls below zero degrees centigrade. In areas where there is no snow in cold seasons, soil gets frozen through for many meters, and, for instance, in Yakutia, the depth of permafrost makes up one and a half kilometer.

The preservative function of snow or thermal insulation is, perhaps, the most important one. It is known that snow cover has loose structure due to the different shapes of snowflakes. Interstices among snowflakes are filled up with air that is characterized by low heat conductivity, so we owe such a wonderful property of snow to air. The air, as we sometimes (but incorrectly) say, “warms up well.”

Due to the low heat conductivity of snow, day-to-day temperature variation penetrates into the snow cover only for a depth of 24 centimeters on average. As specific research has shown, if the amplitude of temperature fluctuation reaches 30 degrees at the snow surface, then at 5 cm depth it amounts to only 16 degrees, at 24 cm depth it makes up 3 degrees and at 44 cm depth the amplitude is insignificant – 0.8 degrees.

Not just soils are protected from frost penetration due to snow as mentioned above, but plants as well, which can stay green through the winter. They often serve as the only food for animals, and harbor seeds, which serve as security for renewal of the vegetation cover in spring.

However, snow is known not only for its heat insulating function. As snow is water in solid aggregative state, it accumulates in large quantities and remains until spring in order to water the earth and allow plants to start growing when it becomes warm.

Besides heat insulating and accumulating functions, snow cover also exerts influence upon a climate.

Everyone knows that air masses move around the earth's surface. Coming from remote areas, they bring along characteristics of the area they originated from – mainly air humidity and temperature. As they move above the surface continuously, they change slightly; however, if they stagnate in one area for a certain time, they acquire temperature and moisture characteristics of the given region.

It is also known that air cannot be heated directly by the sun. Sunlight is absorbed by a surface and then the surface gives heat back to the air in the form of infrared radiation. Some solar radiation is reflected by the surface in the form of light and is not transformed into heat. The less is the surface reflection power and the higher its absorption capacity, the warmer the surface becomes. Thus, surface temperature depends on its reflection properties, or albedo.

The albedo of a black body is equal to 0%, whereas the albedo of a white body is equal to 100%. Fresh-fallen snow is very close to 100% according to its albedo. Correspondingly, when the ground is covered with snow, the ground cannot warm up air ...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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