Intercomparison of snow water equivalent observations in the Northern Great Plains


In the Northern Great Plains, melting snow is a primary driver of spring flooding, but limited knowledge of the magnitude and spatial distribution of snow water equivalent (SWE) hampers flood forecasting. Passive microwave remote sensing has the potential to enhance operational river flow forecasting but is not routinely incorporated in operational flood forecasting. We compare satellite passive microwave estimates from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for the Earth Observing System (AMSR‐E) to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Water Prediction (OWP) airborne gamma radiation snow survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) ground snow survey SWE estimates in the Northern Great Plains from 2002 to 2011. AMSR‐E SWE estimates compare favourably with USACE SWE measurements in the low relief, low vegetation study area (mean difference = −3.8 mm, root mean squared difference [RMSD] = 34.7 mm), but less so with OWP airborne gamma SWE estimates (mean difference = −9.5 mm, RMSD = 42.7 mm). An error simulation suggests that up to half of the error in the former comparison is potentially due to subpixel scale SWE variability, limiting the maximum achievable RMSD between ground and satellite SWE to approximately 26–33 mm in the Northern Great Plains. The OWP gamma versus AMSR‐E SWE comparison yields larger error than the point‐scale USACE versus AMSR‐E comparison, despite a larger measurement footprint (5–7 km2 vs. a few square centimetres, respectively), suggesting that there are unshared errors between the USACE and OWP gamma SWE data.


Earth Systems Research Center

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Hydrological Processes



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© 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.