Articles | Volume 10, issue 3
Research article
01 Jun 2016
Research article |  | 01 Jun 2016

Calibration of a non-invasive cosmic-ray probe for wide area snow water equivalent measurement

Mark J. P. Sigouin and Bing C. Si

Abstract. Measuring snow water equivalent (SWE) is important for many hydrological purposes such as modelling and flood forecasting. Measurements of SWE are also crucial for agricultural production in areas where snowmelt runoff dominates spring soil water recharge. Typical methods for measuring SWE include point measurements (snow tubes) and large-scale measurements (remote sensing). We explored the potential of using the cosmic-ray soil moisture probe (CRP) to measure average SWE at a spatial scale between those provided by snow tubes and remote sensing. The CRP measures above-ground moderated neutron intensity within a radius of approximately 300 m. Using snow tubes, surveys were performed over two winters (2013/2014 and 2014/2015) in an area surrounding a CRP in an agricultural field in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The raw moderated neutron intensity counts were corrected for atmospheric pressure, water vapour, and temporal variability of incoming cosmic-ray flux. The mean SWE from manually measured snow surveys was adjusted for differences in soil water storage before snowfall between both winters because the CRP reading appeared to be affected by soil water below the snowpack. The SWE from the snow surveys was negatively correlated with the CRP-measured moderated neutron intensity, giving Pearson correlation coefficients of −0.90 (2013/2014) and −0.87 (2014/2015). A linear regression performed on the manually measured SWE and moderated neutron intensity counts for 2013/2014 yielded an r2 of 0.81. Linear regression lines from the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 manually measured SWE and moderated neutron counts were similar; thus differences in antecedent soil water storage did not appear to affect the slope of the SWE vs. neutron relationship. The regression equation obtained from 2013/2014 was used to model SWE using the moderated neutron intensity data for 2014/2015. The CRP-estimated SWE for 2014/2015 was similar to that of the snow survey, with an root-mean-square error of 8.8 mm. The CRP-estimated SWE also compared well to estimates made using snow depths at meteorological sites near (< 10 km) the CRP. Overall, the empirical equation presented provides acceptable estimates of average SWE using moderated neutron intensity measurements. Using a CRP to monitor SWE is attractive because it delivers a continuous reading, can be installed in remote locations, requires minimal labour, and provides a landscape-scale measurement footprint.

Short summary
The cosmic-ray soil moisture probe (CRP) uses the natural above ground neutron intensity to measure soil water content at a landscape scale. The goal of our research was to use the CRP to monitor how much water is in snowpacks, since snow and soil water affect neutron intensity similarly. We developed a relationship between neutron intensity and snow water. We used the relationship to estimate snow water non-invasively in an area of ~ 300 m radius using neutron intensity readings from the CRP.