Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
19 Mar 2014
Research article |  | 19 Mar 2014

Homogenisation of a gridded snow water equivalent climatology for Alpine terrain: methodology and applications

S. Jörg-Hess, F. Fundel, T. Jonas, and M. Zappa

Abstract. Gridded snow water equivalent (SWE) data sets are valuable for estimating the snow water resources and verify different model systems, e.g. hydrological, land surface or atmospheric models. However, changing data availability represents a considerable challenge when trying to derive consistent time series for SWE products. In an attempt to improve the product consistency, we first evaluated the differences between two climatologies of SWE grids that were calculated on the basis of data from 110 and 203 stations, respectively. The "shorter" climatology (2001–2009) was produced using 203 stations (map203) and the "longer" one (1971–2009) 110 stations (map110). Relative to map203, map110 underestimated SWE, especially at higher elevations and at the end of the winter season. We tested the potential of quantile mapping to compensate for mapping errors in map110 relative to map203. During a 9 yr calibration period from 2001 to 2009, for which both map203 and map110 were available, the method could successfully refine the spatial and temporal SWE representation in map110 by making seasonal, regional and altitude-related distinctions. Expanding the calibration to the full 39 yr showed that the general underestimation of map110 with respect to map203 could be removed for the whole winter. The calibrated SWE maps fitted the reference (map203) well when averaged over regions and time periods, where the mean error is approximately zero. However, deviations between the calibrated maps and map203 were observed at single grid cells and years. When we looked at three different regions in more detail, we found that the calibration had the largest effect in the region with the highest proportion of catchment areas above 2000 m a.s.l. and that the general underestimation of map110 compared to map203 could be removed for the entire snow season. The added value of the calibrated SWE climatology is illustrated with practical examples: the verification of a hydrological model, the estimation of snow resource anomalies and the predictability of runoff through SWE.