Assessment of L-band InSAR snow estimation techniques over a shallow, heterogeneous prairie snowpack

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Elsevier BV


Snow water equivalent (SWE) is a critical input for weather, climate, and water resource management models at local to global scales. Despite its importance, global SWE measurements that are accurate, consistent, and at sufficiently high spatiotemporal resolutions are not currently available. L-band interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) techniques have been used to measure SWE at local to regional scales, and two upcoming L-band SAR satellite missions have renewed interest in these techniques to provide regular SWE measurements at the global scale. However, previous research demonstrating the capabilities of L-band InSAR-SWE measurement has been limited to mountain or tundra snowpack regimes. Here we examine the feasibility of applying the same techniques over a prairie snowpack, which are typically characterized by shallow snow depths (mean snow depth of 0.22 m in this study), exposed agricultural vegetation, and high spatial variability over short distances. Our study area in central Montana, USA (47.060, -109.951) was a validation site for NASA SnowEx 2021, as part of the UAVSAR snow timeseries. Airborne L-band SAR imagery was acquired by the UAVSAR platform while concurrent snow measurements were collected using uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV)-based LiDAR, UAV-based photogrammetry, and ground-based manual techniques. This validation dataset enables an investigation of the effects of sub-pixel snow cover heterogeneity and exposed agricultural vegetation stubble on SAR data and the resulting SWE estimations. Results based on repeated application of the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test show that UAVSAR VV phase change is sensitive to differences in snow cover but relatively unaffected by differences in agricultural stubble height. However, we did not find similarly definitive results when we used the same phase change data to estimate SWE. Although broad spatial patterns were similar in both LiDAR-derived and InSAR-derived SWE estimates, considerable differences in the two estimates were apparent in areas with large sub-pixel snow depth variability. Our results indicate that additional work is necessary to derive accurate SWE estimates in prairie environments. Regular measurements from L-band SAR satellites will provide an excellent opportunity to refine InSAR-based snow estimation techniques over shallow, heterogeneous snowpacks.



L-band InSAR, UAVSAR, Snow water equivalent, Prairie snowpack


Palomaki, R. T., & Sproles, E. A. (2023). Assessment of L-band InSAR snow estimation techniques over a shallow, heterogeneous prairie snowpack. Remote Sensing of Environment, 296, 113744.
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