In regions with a Nordic climate, soil erosion rates in winter and early spring can exceed those occurring during other seasons of the year. In this context, this study was initiated to improve our understanding of the interaction between agricultural soils and occurring winter conditions. The main objective was to better understand how hydrological processes in a catchment are influenced by snow, ice, and freeze-thaw cycles of soils, leading to runoff and soil erosion in winter and spring conditions.
For this purpose, detailed spatially and temporally distributed measurements and observations in a small catchment in Norway were executed during three consecutive winter/spring periods. During the winter/spring periods of 2013-2014, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, soil water content, soil temperature, and snow cover properties were measured. In addition, numerous soil samples were taken to determine the soil hydraulic characteristics of the investigated soils and to quantify the changes in their macropore networks due to freeze-thaw events, using X-ray imaging.
With the collected data and deduced process understanding, it was possible to model and quantify the spatial and temporal development of snow packs. Furthermore, the field observations revealed how the interaction of tillage, state of the soils and snow cover at a certain time can lead to none or extensive surface runoff and soil erosion.
Integrating acquired data, observations and process knowledge facilitated advances in simulating and quantifying surface runoff and soil erosion rates across the catchment under investigation. The models applied and the maps and output derived are crucial elements for presenting current state and problems in the catchment to stakeholders (such as farmers), providing a starting point for discussing ways to prevent and reduce further runoff and erosion. For model calibration and validation, including interpretation of modelling results, good knowledge of the area and availability of detailed data are essential, especially when processes such as freezing-thawing of soils and ice layer and snow-pack dynamics have to be considered also.
In order to reduce runoff and soil erosion during winter and snowmelt conditions in the future, more targeted research is required in order to address the full range of existing knowledge gaps in this field, as identified in this particular study also.