Snowpack and runoff generation using AMSR-E passive microwave observations in the Upper Helmand Watershed, Afghanistan


Passive microwave estimates of snow water equivalent (SWE) were examined to determine their usefulness for evaluating water resources in the remote Upper Helmand Watershed, central Afghanistan. SWE estimates from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer–Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) and the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) passive microwave data were analyzed for six winter seasons, 2004–2009. A second, independent estimate of SWE was calculated for these same time periods using a hydrologic model of the watershed with a temperature index snow model driven using the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) gridded estimates of precipitation. The results demonstrate that passive microwave SWE values from SSM/I and AMSR-E are comparable. The AMSR-E sensor had improved performance in the early winter and late spring, which suggests that AMSR-E is better at detecting shallow snowpacks than SSM/I. The timing and magnitude of SWE values from the snow model and the passive microwave observations were sometimes similar with a correlation of 0.53 and accuracy between 55 and 62%. However, the modeled SWE was much lower than the AMSR-E SWE during two winter seasons in which TRMM data estimated lower than normal precipitation. Modeled runoff and reservoir storage predictions improved significantly when peak AMSR-E SWE values were used to update the snow model state during these periods. Rapid decreases in passive microwave SWE during precipitation events were also well aligned with flood flows that increased base flows by 170 and 940%. This finding supports previous northern latitude studies which indicate that the passive microwave signal's lack of scattering can be used to detect snow melt. The current study's extension to rain on snow events suggests an opportunity for added value for flood forecasting.


Earth Systems Research Center

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Remote Sensing of Environment



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