Transmission of ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared solar radiation to plants within a seasonal snow pack†
Sunlight is strongly attenuated by the snowpack, causing irradiance to decrease exponentially with depth. The strength of attenuation is wavelength dependent across the spectrum. Changes in received irradiance and its spectral composition are used by plants as cues for the timing of phenology, and it is known that at shallow depths in the snowpack there is sufficient light for plants to photosynthesize if conditions are otherwise favourable. The spectral composition of solar radiation under snow in the visible region was already determined in the 1970s using scanning spectroradiometers, but spectral attenuation within the ultraviolet region (UV-B 280–315 nm, UV-A 315–400 nm) has not been well characterised because it is difficult to measure. We measured vertical transects of spectral irradiance (290–900 nm) transmitted through a settled seasonal snowpack. The peak transmission of radiation was in the UV-A region in the upper centimetres of the snowpack and transmittance generally declined at longer wavelengths. Given the known action spectra of plant photoreceptors, these results illustrate the possibility that changing UV-A : visible and red : far-red radiation ratios under the snowpack may serve as spectral cues for plants; potentially priming plants for the less stable environment they experience following snowmelt. Array spectrometers open opportunities for rapid and continuous measurement of irradiance in challenging environments, e.g. beneath the snowpack, and capturing changing light conditions for plants. Future research is needed to couple the spectral transmittance of snowpacks differing in their longevity and crystal structure with measurements of the perception and response to radiation by plants under snow.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Plant responses to UV