Instruments and Methods Recording Microscale Variations in Snowpack Layering Using Near-Infrared Photography

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Deposition of snow from precipitation and wind events creates layering within seasonal snowpacks. The thickness and horizontal continuity of layers within seasonal snowpacks can be highly variable, due to snow blowing around topography and vegetation, and this has important implications for hydrology, remote sensing and avalanche forecasting. In this paper, we present practical field and postprocessing protocols for recording lateral variations in snow stratigraphy using near-infrared (NIR) photography. A Fuji S9100 digital camera, modified to be sensitive to NIR wavelengths, was mounted on a rail system that allowed for rapid imaging of a 10m long snow trench excavated on the north side of Toolik Lake, Alaska (688380 N, 1498360 W). Post-processing of the images included removal of lens distortion and vignetting. A tape measure running along the base of the trench provided known locations (control points) that permitted scaling and georeferencing. Snow layer heights estimated from the NIR images compared well with manual stratigraphic measurements made at 0.2m intervals along the trench (n = 357, R2 = 0.97). Considerably greater stratigraphic detail was captured by the NIR images than in the manually recorded profiles. NIR imaging of snow trenches using the described protocols is an efficient tool for quantifying continuous microscale variations in snow layers and associated properties.

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