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Radar instruments have been widely used to measure snow water equivalent (SWE) and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar is a promising approach for doing so from spaceborne platforms. Electromagnetic waves propagate through the snowpack at a velocity determined by its dielectric permittivity. Velocity estimates are a significant source of uncertainty in radar SWE retrievals, especially in wet snow. In dry snow, velocity can be calculated from relations between permittivity and snow density. However, wet snow velocity is a function of both snow density and liquid water content (LWC); the latter exhibits high spatiotemporal variability, there is no standard observation method, and it is not typically measured by automated stations. In this study, we used ground-penetrating radar (GPR), probed snow depths, and measured in situ vertically-averaged density to estimate SWE and bulk LWC for seven survey dates at Cameron Pass, Colorado (~3120 m) from April to June 2019. During this cooler than average season, median LWC for individual survey dates never exceeded 7 vol. %. However, in June, LWC values greater than 10 vol. % were observed in isolated areas where the ground and the base of the snowpack were saturated and therefore inhibited further meltwater output. LWC development was modulated by canopy cover and meltwater drainage was influenced by ground slope. We generated synthetic SWE retrievals that resemble the planned footprint of the NASA-ISRO L-band InSAR satellite (NISAR) from GPR using a dry snow density model. Synthetic SWE retrievals overestimated observed SWE by as much as 40% during the melt season due to the presence of LWC. Our findings emphasize the importance of considering LWC variability in order to fully realize the potential of future spaceborne radar missions for measuring SWE.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.