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Snow depth variability in the Northern Hemisphere mountains observed from space


Accurate snow depth observations are critical to assess water resources. More than a billion people rely on water from snow, most of which originates in the Northern Hemisphere mountain ranges. Yet, remote sensing observations of mountain snow depth are still lacking at the large scale. Here, we show the ability of Sentinel-1 to map snow depth in the Northern Hemisphere mountains at 1 km² resolution using an empirical change detection approach. An evaluation with measurements from ~4000 sites and reanalysis data demonstrates that the Sentinel-1 retrievals capture the spatial variability between and within mountain ranges, as well as their inter-annual differences. This is showcased with the contrasting snow depths between 2017 and 2018 in the US Sierra Nevada and European Alps. With Sentinel-1 continuity ensured until 2030 and likely beyond, these findings lay a foundation for quantifying the long-term vulnerability of mountain snow-water resources to climate change.

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