Deciduous trees are a large and overlooked sink for snowmelt water in the boreal forest

Sci Rep. 2016 Jul 12;6:29504. doi: 10.1038/srep29504.


The terrestrial water cycle contains large uncertainties that impact our understanding of water budgets and climate dynamics. Water storage is a key uncertainty in the boreal water budget, with tree water storage often ignored. The goal of this study is to quantify tree water content during the snowmelt and growing season periods for Alaskan and western Canadian boreal forests. Deciduous trees reached saturation between snowmelt and leaf-out, taking up 21-25% of the available snowmelt water, while coniferous trees removed <1%. We found that deciduous trees removed 17.8-20.9 billion m(3) of snowmelt water, which is equivalent to 8.7-10.2% of the Yukon River's annual discharge. Deciduous trees transpired 2-12% (0.4-2.2 billion m(3)) of the absorbed snowmelt water immediately after leaf-out, increasing favorable conditions for atmospheric convection, and an additional 10-30% (2.0-5.2 billion m(3)) between leaf-out and mid-summer. By 2100, boreal deciduous tree area is expected to increase by 1-15%, potentially resulting in an additional 0.3-3 billion m(3) of snowmelt water removed from the soil per year. This study is the first to show that deciduous tree water uptake of snowmelt water represents a large but overlooked aspect of the water balance in boreal watersheds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alaska
  • Canada
  • Climate
  • Plant Leaves
  • Rivers
  • Seasons
  • Soil
  • Taiga*
  • Trees*
  • Water / analysis*


  • Soil
  • Water