Measuring Snow Grain Size with the Near-Infrared Emitting Reflectance Dome (NERD)

Friday, 19 December 2014
Adam Michael Schneider, University of Michigan, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, Ann Arbor, MI, United States and Mark Flanner, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States
Because of its high visible albedo, snow plays a large role in Earth’s surface energy balance. This role is a subject of intense study, but due to the wide range of snow albedo, variations in the characteristics of snow grains can introduce radiative feedbacks in a snow pack. Snow grain size, for example, is one property which directly affects a snow pack’s absorption spectrum. Previous studies model and observe this spectrum, but potential feedbacks induced by these variations are largely unknown. Here, we implement a simple and inexpensive technique to measure snow grain size in an instrument we call the Near-infrared Emitting Reflectance Dome (NERD). A small black styrene dome (~17cm diameter), fitted with two narrowband light-emitting diodes (LEDs) centered around 1300nm and 1550nm and three near-infrared reverse-biased photodiodes, is placed over the snow surface enabling a multi-spectral measurement of the hemispheric directional reflectance factor (HDRF). We illuminate the snow at each wavelength, measure directional reflectance, and infer grain size from the difference in HDRFs measured on the same snow crystals at fixed viewing angles. We validate measurements from the NERD using two different reflectance standards, materials designed to be near perfect Lambertian reflectors, having known, constant reflectances (~99% and ~55%) across a wide range of wavelengths. Using a 3D Monte Carlo model simulating photon pathways through a pack of spherical snow grains, we calculate the difference in HDRFs at 1300nm and 1550nm to predict the calibration curve for a wide range of grain sizes. This theoretically derived curve gives a relationship between effective radius and the difference in HDRFs and allows us to approximate grain sizes using the NERD in just a few seconds. Further calibration requires knowledge of truth values attainable using a previously validated instrument or measurements from an inter-comparison workshop.