Some attributes of snow occurrence and snowmelt/sublimation rates in the Lesotho Highlands: environmental implications

  • Stefan Grab
  • Jonathan Linde
  • Hugo De Lemos


We present attributes of snow occurrence and dissipation rates (melt and sublimation) for the Lesotho Highlands, based on remotely-sensed MODIS images from 2003–2016. Multi-temporal imagery is used, with SNOMAP and NDSI algorithms applied to MODIS Rapid Response images. The spatial extent of snow loss was determined by daily repeat measurements of snow coverage, which was calculated from each filtered and trimmed MODIS SNOMAP image using the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst tool. Results indicate an average of 11.5 snowfalls per annum for the years 2003–2016; with snow longevity averaging ca. 10 days following individual snowfalls in mid-winter. Snow cover on the highest south-facing slopes persists longest during the months of June to August, in particular along the southern Drakensberg where it averages ca. 58 days during these 3 months. Mean daily melt increases by 1.6% per 1°C rise during the first 5 days post-snowfall, and by 3.3% per 1°C rise for 6 to 10 days post-snowfall. However, snowmelt rates are spatially highly variable given other factors such as wind deflation and wind-induced sublimation. The observed snow trends have important implications for biosystem functioning, regional climate and hydrology, earth surface processes, and rural livelihoods in the Lesotho Highlands.

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eISSN: 0378-4738