The Perks of Snow

Many of us aren't excited about the prospect of winter, or a heavy snowfall, but did you know what snow plays an important role in more than just the water cycle? Snow has some unexpected benefits to ecosystem health! 

Snow is an important player come spring time for some more obvious reasons. Snow melts and flows to the nearest river or is absorbed by the soil as it thaws. The season's snowpack is the growing season's first chance at moisture. The runoff snowmelt is also the best way for rivers in a precipitation-fed watershed, like the Lesser Slave Watershed, to fill up and provide habitat for species of all kinds, especially spawning fish. Runoff kick-starts flow in our rivers and works to fill our lakes but can also carry with it many risks to water quality, like sediment, extra nutrients, litter and more. 

Without a 'normal' winter, watersheds like ours aren't given the chance to restore low water levels from dry summer or fall conditions. With low snowfall, coupled with an extremely dry summer last year, Alberta's drought situation is only worsening.

But there are other reasons why snow is such a vital resource. The biggest reason snow is important is for so many living organisms to make it through the winter months!

Snow is an insulator! It might seem weird to think of something that is cold like snow as an insulator, but it's true! When there is a layer of snow, it acts as an insulator for all the critters living on the ground. Many of these animals are called subnivean, which means they live and travel below the snow during winter months! This includes species like mice who tunnel under the snow between food caches in the winter to survive! With little to now snowpack during years like these, it becomes concerning for those animals. 

Other living organisms that benefit from snow as an insulator are plants! A plant's roots are protected by snow through the coldest temperatures, giving them the best shot at survival in the spring! Without a good snowpack, less established plants will have a harder time through the cold months. 

We hope for a lot of snow to help minimize our risk of severe drought come the spring, and to help all kinds of living organisms through the seasons. 

By: Kate Lovsin