Divergence of apparent and intrinsic snow albedo over a season at a sub-alpine site with implications for remote sensing
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Divergence of apparent and intrinsic snow albedo over a season at a sub-alpine site with implications for remote sensing

  • Author(s): Bair, Edward H;
  • Dozier, Jeff;
  • Stern, Charles;
  • LeWinter, Adam;
  • Rittger, Karl;
  • Savagian, Alexandria;
  • Stillinger, Timbo;
  • Davis, Robert E
  • et al.

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Abstract. Intrinsic albedo is the bihemispherical reflectance independent of effects of topography or surface roughness. Conversely, the apparent albedo is the reflected radiation divided by the incident and may be affected by topography or roughness. For snow, the surface is often rough, and these two optical quantities have different uses: intrinsic albedo is used in scattering equations whereas apparent albedo should be used in energy balance models. Complementing numerous studies devoted to surface roughness and its effect on snow reflectance, this work analyzes a time series of intrinsic and apparent snow albedos over a season at a sub-alpine site using an automated terrestrial laser scanner to map the snow surface topography. An updated albedo model accounts for shade, and in situ albedo measurements from a field spectrometer are compared to those from a spaceborne multispectral sensor. A spectral unmixing approach using a shade endmember (to address the common problem of unknown surface topography) produces grain size and impurity solutions; the modeled shade fraction is compared to the intrinsic and apparent albedo difference. As expected and consistent with other studies, the results show that intrinsic albedo is consistently greater than apparent albedo. Both albedos decrease rapidly as ablation hollows form during melt, combining effects of impurities on the surface and increasing roughness. Intrinsic broadband albedos average 0.056 greater than apparent albedos, with the difference being 0.052 in the near infrared or 0.022 if the average (planar) topography is known and corrected. Field measurements of spectral surface reflectance confirm that multispectral sensors see the apparent albedo but lack the spectral resolution to distinguish between darkening from ablation hollows versus low concentrations of impurities. In contrast, measurements from the field spectrometer have sufficient resolution to discern darkening from the two sources. Based on these results, conclusions are as follows: (1) impurity estimates from multispectral sensors are only reliable for relatively dirty snow with high snow fraction; (2) a shade endmember must be used in spectral mixture models, even for in situ spectroscopic measurements; and (3) snow albedo models should produce apparent albedos by accounting for the shade fraction. The conclusion re-iterates that albedo is the most practical snow reflectance quantity for remote sensing.

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