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Estimating the distribution of snow water equivalent and snow extent beneath cloud cover in the Salt-Verde River basin, Arizona

  • Author(s): Molotch, NP;
  • Fassnacht, SR;
  • Bales, RC;
  • Helfrich, SR
  • et al.

The temporal and spatial continuity of spatially distributed estimates of snow-covered area (SCA) are limited by the availability of cloud-free satellite imagery; this also affects spatial estimates of snow water equivalent (SWE), as SCA can be used to define the extent of snow telemetry (SNOTEL) point SWE interpolation. In order to extend the continuity of these estimates in time and space to areas beneath the cloud cover, gridded temperature data were used to define the spatial domain of SWE interpolation in the Salt-Verde watershed of Arizona. Gridded positive accumulated degree-days (ADD) and binary SCA (derived from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR)) were used to define a threshold ADD to define the area of snow cover. The optimized threshold ADD increased during snow accumulation periods, reaching a peak at maximum snow extent. The threshold then decreased dramatically during the first time period after peak snow extent owing to the low amount of energy required to melt the thin snow cover at lower elevations. The area having snow cover at this later time was then used to define the area for which SWE interpolation was done. The area simulated to have snow was compared with observed SCA from AVHRR to assess the simulated snow map accuracy. During periods without precipitation, the average commission and omission errors of the optimal technique were 7% and 11% respectively, with a map accuracy of 82%. Average map accuracy decreased to 75% during storm periods, with commission and omission errors equal to 11% and 12% respectively. The analysis shows that temperature data can be used to help estimate the snow extent beneath clouds and therefore improve the spatial and temporal continuity of SCA and SWE products. © 2004 John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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