Review Article: Global Monitoring of Snow Water Equivalent using High Frequency Radar Remote Sensing
M. T. Durand,
A. P. Barros,
Joel T. Johnson,
A. W. Nolin,
Rhae Sung Kim,
Abstract. Seasonal snow cover is the largest single component of the cryosphere in areal extent, covering an average of 46 million square km of Earth's surface (31 % of the land area) each year, and is thus an important expression of and driver of the Earth’s climate. In recent years, Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover has been declining at about the same rate (~ −13 %/decade) as Arctic summer sea ice. More than one-sixth of the world’s population relies on seasonal snowpack and glaciers for a water supply that is likely to decrease this century. Snow is also a critical component of Earth’s cold regions' ecosystems, in which wildlife, vegetation, and snow are strongly interconnected. Snow water equivalent (SWE) describes the quantity of snow stored on the land surface and is of fundamental importance to water, energy, and geochemical cycles. Quality global SWE estimates are lacking. Given the vast seasonal extent combined with the spatially variable nature of snow distribution at regional and local scales, surface observations will not be able to provide sufficient SWE information. Satellite observations presently cannot provide SWE information at the spatial and temporal resolutions required to address science and high socio-economic value applications such as water resource management and streamflow forecasting. In this paper, we review the potential contribution of X- and Ku-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for global monitoring of SWE. We describe radar interactions with snow-covered landscapes, characterization of snowpack properties using radar measurements, and refinement of retrieval algorithms via synergy with other microwave remote sensing approaches. SAR can image the surface during both day and night regardless of cloud cover, allowing high-frequency revisit at high spatial resolution as demonstrated by missions such as Sentinel-1. The physical basis for estimating SWE from X- and Ku-band radar measurements at local scales is volume scattering by millimetre-scale snow grains. Inference of global snow properties from SAR requires an interdisciplinary approach based on field observations of snow microstructure, physical snow modelling, electromagnetic theory, and retrieval strategies over a range of scales. New field measurement capabilities have enabled significant advances in understanding snow microstructure such as grain size, densities, and layering. We describe radar interactions with snow-covered landscapes, the characterization of snowpack properties using radar measurements, and the refinement of retrieval algorithms via synergy with other microwave remote sensing approaches. This review serves to inform the broader snow research, monitoring, and applications communities on progress made in recent decades, and sets the stage for a new era in SWE remote-sensing from SAR measurements.
Abstract Uncertainties of snowpack models and of their meteorological forcings limit their use by avalanche hazard forecasters, or for glaciological and hydrological studies. The spatialized simulations currently available for avalanche hazard forecasting are only assimilating sparse meteorological observations. As suggested by recent studies, their forecasting skills could be significantly improved by assimilating satellite data such as snow reflectances from satellites in the visible and the near-infrared spectra. Indeed, these data can help constrain the microstructural properties of surface snow and light absorbing impurities content, which in turn affect the surface energy and mass budgets. This paper investigates the prerequisites of satellite data assimilation into a detailed snowpack model. An ensemble version of Meteo-France operational snowpack forecasting system (named S2M) was built for this study. This operational system runs on topographic classes instead of grid points, so-called ‘semi-distributed’ approach. Each class corresponds to one of the 23 mountain massifs of the French Alps (about 1000 km2 each), an altitudinal range (by step of 300 m) and aspect (by step of 45°). We assess the feasability of satellite data assimilation in such a semi-distributed geometry. Ensemble simulations are compared with satellite observations from MODIS and Sentinel-2, and with in-situ reflectance observations. The study focuses on the 2013–2014 and 2016–2017 winters in the Grandes-Rousses massif. Substantial Pearson R2 correlations (0.75–0.90) of MODIS observations with simulations are found over the domain. This suggests that assimilating it could have an impact on the spatialized snowpack forecasting system. However, observations contain significant biases (0.1–0.2 in reflectance) which prevent their direct assimilation. MODIS spectral band ratios seem to be much less biased. This may open the way to an operational assimilation of MODIS reflectances into the Meteo-France snowpack modelling system.
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.