Bayesian physical--statistical retrieval of snow water equivalent and snow depth from X- and Ku-band synthetic aperture radar -- demonstration using airborne SnowSAr in SnowEx'17

S. Singh, M. Durand, E. Kim, A. P. Barros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A physical–statistical framework to estimate snow water equivalent (SWE) and snow depth from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) measurements is presented and applied to four SnowSAR flight-line data sets collected during the SnowEx'2017 field campaign in Grand Mesa, Colorado, USA. The physical (radar) model is used to describe the relationship between snowpack conditions and volume backscatter. The statistical model is a Bayesian inference model that seeks to estimate the joint probability distribution of volume backscatter measurements, snow density and snow depth, and physical model parameters. Prior distributions are derived from multilayer snow hydrology predictions driven by downscaled numerical weather prediction (NWP) forecasts. To reduce the signal-to-noise ratio, SnowSAR measurements at 1 m resolution were upscaled by simple averaging to 30 and 90 m resolution. To reduce the number of physical parameters, the multilayer snowpack is transformed for Bayesian inference into an equivalent one- or two-layer snowpack with the same snow mass and volume backscatter. Successful retrievals meeting NASEM (2018) science requirements are defined by absolute convergence backscatter errors ≤1.2 dB and local SnowSAR incidence angles between 30 and 45∘ for X- and Ku-band VV-pol backscatter measurements and were achieved for 75 % to 87 % of all grassland pixels with SWE up to 0.7 m and snow depth up to 2 m. SWE retrievals compare well with snow pit observations, showing strong skill in deep snow with average absolute SWE residuals of 5 %–7 % (15 %–18 %) for the two-layer (one-layer) retrieval algorithm. Furthermore, the spatial distributions of snow depth retrievals vis-à-vis lidar estimates have Bhattacharya coefficients above 94 % (90 %) for homogeneous grassland pixels at 30 m (90 m resolution), and values up to 76 % in mixed forest and grassland areas, indicating that the retrievals closely capture snowpack spatial variability. Because NWP forecasts are available everywhere, the proposed approach could be applied to SWE and snow depth retrievals from a dedicated global snow mission.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)747-773
Number of pages27
JournalThe Cryosphere
Volume18
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 20 2024

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