Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
27 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 27 Jan 2017

Microstructure representation of snow in coupled snowpack and microwave emission models

Melody Sandells, Richard Essery, Nick Rutter, Leanne Wake, Leena Leppänen, and Juha Lemmetyinen

Abstract. This is the first study to encompass a wide range of coupled snow evolution and microwave emission models in a common modelling framework in order to generalise the link between snowpack microstructure predicted by the snow evolution models and microstructure required to reproduce observations of brightness temperature as simulated by snow emission models. Brightness temperatures at 18.7 and 36.5 GHz were simulated by 1323 ensemble members, formed from 63 Jules Investigation Model snowpack simulations, three microstructure evolution functions, and seven microwave emission model configurations. Two years of meteorological data from the Sodankylä Arctic Research Centre, Finland, were used to drive the model over the 2011–2012 and 2012–2013 winter periods. Comparisons between simulated snow grain diameters and field measurements with an IceCube instrument showed that the evolution functions from SNTHERM simulated snow grain diameters that were too large (mean error 0.12 to 0.16 mm), whereas MOSES and SNICAR microstructure evolution functions simulated grain diameters that were too small (mean error −0.16 to −0.24 mm for MOSES and −0.14 to −0.18 mm for SNICAR). No model (HUT, MEMLS, or DMRT-ML) provided a consistently good fit across all frequencies and polarisations. The smallest absolute values of mean bias in brightness temperature over a season for a particular frequency and polarisation ranged from 0.7 to 6.9 K.

Optimal scaling factors for the snow microstructure were presented to compare compatibility between snowpack model microstructure and emission model microstructure. Scale factors ranged between 0.3 for the SNTHERM–empirical MEMLS model combination (2011–2012) and 3.3 for DMRT-ML in conjunction with MOSES microstructure (2012–2013). Differences in scale factors between microstructure models were generally greater than the differences between microwave emission models, suggesting that more accurate simulations in coupled snowpack–microwave model systems will be achieved primarily through improvements in the snowpack microstructure representation, followed by improvements in the emission models. Other snowpack parameterisations in the snowpack model, mainly densification, led to a mean brightness temperature difference of 11 K at 36.5 GHz H-pol and 18 K at V-pol when the Jules Investigation Model ensemble was applied to the MOSES microstructure and empirical MEMLS emission model for the 2011–2012 season. The impact of snowpack parameterisation increases as the microwave scattering increases. Consistency between snowpack microstructure and microwave emission models, and the choice of snowpack densification algorithms should be considered in the design of snow mass retrieval systems and microwave data assimilation systems.

Short summary
This study looks at a wide range of options for simulating sensor signals for satellite monitoring of water stored as snow, though an ensemble of 1323 coupled snow evolution and microwave scattering models. The greatest improvements will be made with better computer simulations of how the snow microstructure changes, followed by how the microstructure scatters radiation at microwave frequencies. Snow compaction should also be considered in systems to monitor snow mass from space.