Abstract. Accurate knowledge of snow depth distributions in mountain catchments is critical for applications in hydrology and ecology. Recently, a method was proposed to map snow depth at meter-scale resolution from very-high-resolution stereo satellite imagery (e.g., Pléiades) with an accuracy close to 0.5 m. However, the validation was limited to probe measurements and unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) photogrammetry, which sampled a limited fraction of the topographic and snow depth variability. We improve upon this evaluation using accurate maps of the snow depth derived from Airborne Snow Observatory laser-scanning measurements in the Tuolumne river basin, USA. We find a good agreement between both datasets over a snow-covered area of 138 km2 on a 3 m grid, with a positive bias for a Pléiades snow depth of 0.08 m, a root mean square error of 0.80 m and a normalized median absolute deviation (NMAD) of 0.69 m. Satellite data capture the relationship between snow depth and elevation at the catchment scale and also small-scale features like snow drifts and avalanche deposits at a typical scale of tens of meters. The random error at the pixel level is lower in snow-free areas than in snow-covered areas, but it is reduced by a factor of 2 (NMAD of approximately 0.40 m for snow depth) when averaged to a 36 m grid. We conclude that satellite photogrammetry stands out as a convenient method to estimate the spatial distribution of snow depth in high mountain catchments.
Heterogeneous Changes in Western North American Glaciers Linked to Decadal Variability in Zonal Wind Strength
I. M. Howat,
Ben M. Pelto,
J. M. Shea,
Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 46, Issue 1
Western North American (WNA) glaciers outside of Alaska cover 14,384 km2 of mountainous terrain. No comprehensive analysis of recent mass change exists for this region. We generated over 15,000 multisensor digital elevation models from spaceborne optical imagery to provide an assessment of mass change for WNA over the period 2000–2018. These glaciers lost 117 ± 42 gigatons (Gt) of mass, which accounts for up to 0.32 ± 0.11 mm of sea level rise over the full period of study. We observe a fourfold increase in mass loss rates between 2000–2009 [−2.9 ± 3.1 Gt yr−1] and 2009–2018 [−12.3 ± 4.6 Gt yr−1], and we attribute this change to a shift in regional meteorological conditions driven by the location and strength of upper level zonal wind. Our results document decadal‐scale climate variability over WNA that will likely modulate glacier mass change in the future.