Articles | Volume 8, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 8, 73–90, 2014

Special issue: Earth observation of the Cryosphere

The Cryosphere, 8, 73–90, 2014

Research article 10 Jan 2014

Research article | 10 Jan 2014

A satellite-based snow cover climatology (1985–2011) for the European Alps derived from AVHRR data

F. Hüsler1, T. Jonas2, M. Riffler1, J. P. Musial1, and S. Wunderle1 F. Hüsler et al.
  • 1Institute of Geography and Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos Dorf, Switzerland

Abstract. Seasonal snow cover is of great environmental and socio-economic importance for the European Alps. Therefore a high priority has been assigned to quantifying its temporal and spatial variability. Complementary to land-based monitoring networks, optical satellite observations can be used to derive spatially comprehensive information on snow cover extent. For understanding long-term changes in alpine snow cover extent, the data acquired by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) sensors mounted onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and Meteorological Operational satellite (MetOp) platforms offer a unique source of information.

In this paper, we present the first space-borne 1 km snow extent climatology for the Alpine region derived from AVHRR data over the period 1985–2011. The objective of this study is twofold: first, to generate a new set of cloud-free satellite snow products using a specific cloud gap-filling technique and second, to examine the spatiotemporal distribution of snow cover in the European Alps over the last 27 yr from the satellite perspective. For this purpose, snow parameters such as snow onset day, snow cover duration (SCD), melt-out date and the snow cover area percentage (SCA) were employed to analyze spatiotemporal variability of snow cover over the course of three decades. On the regional scale, significant trends were found toward a shorter SCD at lower elevations in the south-east and south-west. However, our results do not show any significant trends in the monthly mean SCA over the last 27 yr. This is in agreement with other research findings and may indicate a deceleration of the decreasing snow trend in the Alpine region. Furthermore, such data may provide spatially and temporally homogeneous snow information for comprehensive use in related research fields (i.e., hydrologic and economic applications) or can serve as a reference for climate models.