Interpreting Sentinel-1 SAR Backscatter Signals of Snowpack Surface Melt/Freeze, Warming, and Ripening, Through Field Measurements and Physically-Based SnowModel
The transition of a cold winter snowpack to one that is ripe and contributing to runoff is crucial to gauge for water resource management, but is highly variable in space and time. Snow surface melt/freeze cycles, associated with diurnal fluctuations in radiative inputs, are hallmarks of this transition. C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) reliably detects meltwater in the snowpack. Sentinel-1 (S1) C-band SAR offers consistent acquisition patterns that allow for diurnal investigations of melting snow. We used over 50 snow pit observations from 2020 in Grand Mesa, Colorado, USA, to track temperature and wetness in the snowpack as a function of depth and time during snowpack phases of warming, ripening, and runoff. We also ran the physically-based SnowModel, which provided a spatially and temporally continuous independent indication of snowpack conditions. Snowpack phases were identified and corroborated by comparing field measurements with SnowModel outputs. Knowledge of snowpack warming, ripening, and runoff phases was used to interpret diurnal changes in S1 backscatter values. Both field measurements and SnowModel simulations suggested that S1 SAR was not sensitive to the initial snowpack warming phase on Grand Mesa. In the ripening and runoff phases, the diurnal cycle in S1 SAR co-polarized backscatter was affected by both surface melt/freeze as well as the conditions of the snowpack underneath (ripening or ripe). The ripening phase was associated with significant increases in morning backscatter values, likely due to volume scattering from surface melt/freeze crusts, as well as significant decreases in evening backscatter values associated with snowmelt. During the runoff phase, both morning and evening backscatter decreased compared to reference values. These unique S1 diurnal signatures, and their interpretations using field measurements and SnowModel outputs, highlight the capacities and limitations of S1 SAR to understand snow surface states and bulk phases, which may offer runoff forecasting or energy balance model validation or parameterization, especially useful in remote or sparsely-gauged alpine basins.
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Lund, Jewell; Forster, Richard R.; Deeb, Elias J.; Liston, Glen E.; Skiles, S. McKenzie; and Marshall, Hans-Peter. (2022). "Interpreting Sentinel-1 SAR Backscatter Signals of Snowpack Surface Melt/Freeze, Warming, and Ripening, Through Field Measurements and Physically-Based SnowModel". Remote Sensing, 14(16), 4002. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs14164002