Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 9, 13–23, 2015
The Cryosphere, 9, 13–23, 2015

Research article 06 Jan 2015

Research article | 06 Jan 2015

Independent evaluation of the SNODAS snow depth product using regional-scale lidar-derived measurements

A. Hedrick1,2, H.-P. Marshall1, A. Winstral2, K. Elder3, S. Yueh4, and D. Cline5 A. Hedrick et al.
  • 1Boise State University, Center for Geophysical Investigation of the Shallow Subsurface, Boise, ID 83725, USA
  • 2USDA-ARS Northwest Watershed Research Center, 800 Park Blvd., Suite 105, Boise, ID 83712, USA
  • 3USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA
  • 4Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
  • 5NOAA-NWS, Hydrology Laboratory, Office of Hydrologic Development, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA

Abstract. Repeated light detection and ranging (lidar) surveys are quickly becoming the de facto method for measuring spatial variability of montane snowpacks at high resolution. This study examines the potential of a 750 km2 lidar-derived data set of snow depths, collected during the 2007 northern Colorado Cold Lands Processes Experiment (CLPX-2), as a validation source for an operational hydrologic snow model. The SNOw Data Assimilation System (SNODAS) model framework, operated by the US National Weather Service, combines a physically based energy-and-mass-balance snow model with satellite, airborne and automated ground-based observations to provide daily estimates of snowpack properties at nominally 1 km resolution over the conterminous United States. Independent validation data are scarce due to the assimilating nature of SNODAS, compelling the need for an independent validation data set with substantial geographic coverage.

Within 12 distinctive 500 × 500 m study areas located throughout the survey swath, ground crews performed approximately 600 manual snow depth measurements during each of the CLPX-2 lidar acquisitions. This supplied a data set for constraining the uncertainty of upscaled lidar estimates of snow depth at the 1 km SNODAS resolution, resulting in a root-mean-square difference of 13 cm. Upscaled lidar snow depths were then compared to the SNODAS estimates over the entire study area for the dates of the lidar flights. The remotely sensed snow depths provided a more spatially continuous comparison data set and agreed more closely to the model estimates than that of the in situ measurements alone. Finally, the results revealed three distinct areas where the differences between lidar observations and SNODAS estimates were most drastic, providing insight into the causal influences of natural processes on model uncertainty.