How Much Water is in That Snowpack? Improving Basin-wide Snow Water Equivalent Estimates from the Airborne Snow Observatory

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:15 AM
Kat Bormann1, Thomas H Painter1, Danny G Marks2, Peter B. Kirchner3, Adam H Winstral4, Paul Ramirez5, Cameron E Goodale5, Megan Richardson5 and Daniel F Berisford1, (1)NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States, (2)USDA Agriculture Research Serv, Boise, ID, United States, (3)University of California Los Angeles, Joint Institute for Regional Earth Systems Science and Engineering, Los Angeles, CA, United States, (4)USDA-ARS, Boise, ID, United States, (5)Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
In the western US, snowmelt from the mountains contribute the vast majority of fresh water supply, in an otherwise dry region. With much of California currently experiencing extreme drought, it is critical for water managers to have accurate basin-wide estimations of snow water content during the spring melt season. At the forefront of basin-scale snow monitoring is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO). With combined LiDAR /spectrometer instruments and weekly flights over key basins throughout California, the ASO suite is capable of retrieving high-resolution basin-wide snow depth and albedo observations. To make best use of these high-resolution snow depths, spatially distributed snow density data are required to leverage snow water equivalent (SWE) from the measured depths. Snow density is a spatially and temporally variable property and is difficult to estimate at basin scales. Currently, ASO uses a physically based snow model (iSnobal) to resolve distributed snow density dynamics across the basin. However, there are issues with the density algorithms in iSnobal, particularly with snow depths below 0.50 m. This shortcoming limited the use of snow density fields from iSnobal during the poor snowfall year of 2014 in the Sierra Nevada, where snow depths were generally low. A deeper understanding of iSnobal model performance and uncertainty for snow density estimation is required. In this study, the model is compared to an existing climate-based statistical method for basin-wide snow density estimation in the Tuolumne basin in the Sierra Nevada and sparse field density measurements. The objective of this study is to improve the water resource information provided to water managers during ASO operation in the future by reducing the uncertainty introduced during the snow depth to SWE conversion.