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Proceedings Paper

Twenty-four year record of Northern Hemisphere snow cover derived from passive microwave remote sensing
Author(s): Richard L. Armstrong; Mary Jo Brodzik
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Paper Abstract

Snow cover is an important variable for climate and hydrologic models due to its effects on energy and moisture budgets. Seasonal snow can cover more than 50% of the Northern Hemisphere land surface during the winter resulting in snow cover being the land surface characteristic responsible for the largest annual and interannual differences in albedo. Passive microwave satellite remote sensing can augment measurements based on visible satellite data alone because of the ability to acquire data through most clouds or during darkness as well as to provide a measure of snow depth or water equivalent. It is now possible to monitor the global fluctuation of snow cover over a 24 year period using passive microwave data (Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) 1978-1987 and Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I), 1987-present). Evaluation of snow extent derived from passive microwave algorithms is presented through comparison with the NOAA Northern Hemisphere snow extent data. For the period 1978 to 2002, both passive microwave and visible data sets show a smiliar pattern of inter-annual variability, although the maximum snow extents derived from the microwave data are consistently less than those provided by the visible statellite data and the visible data typically show higher monthly variability. During shallow snow conditions of the early winter season microwave data consistently indicate less snow-covered area than the visible data. This underestimate of snow extent results from the fact that shallow snow cover (less than about 5.0 cm) does not provide a scattering signal of sufficient strength to be detected by the algorithms. As the snow cover continues to build during the months of January through March, as well as on into the melt season, agreement between the two data types continually improves. This occurs because as the snow becomes deeper and the layered structure more complex, the negative spectral gradient driving the passive microwave algorithm is enhanced. Trends in annual averages are similar, decreasing at rates of approximately 2% per decade. The only region where the passive microwave data consistently indicate snow and the visible data do not is over the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding mountain areas. In the effort to determine the accuracy of the microwave algorithm over this region we are acquiring surface snow observations through a collaborative study with CAREERI/Lanzhou. In order to provide an optimal snow cover product in the future, we are developing a procedure that blends snow extent maps derived from MODIS data with snow water equivalent maps derived from both SSM/I and AMSR.

Paper Details

Date Published: 30 April 2003
PDF: 8 pages
Proc. SPIE 4894, Microwave Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere and Environment III, (30 April 2003); doi: 10.1117/12.467772
Show Author Affiliations
Richard L. Armstrong, Univ. of Colorado/Boulder (United States)
Mary Jo Brodzik, Univ. of Colorado/Boulder (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 4894:
Microwave Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere and Environment III
Christian D. Kummerow; JingShang Jiang; Seiho Uratuka, Editor(s)

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