A Landsat-Era Sierra Nevada Snow Reanalysis (1985–2015)

Steven A. Margulis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

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Gonzalo Cortés Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

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Manuela Girotto NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, and GESTAR, Universities Space Research Association, Columbia, Maryland

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Michael Durand School of Earth Sciences, and Byrd Polar Research Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

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Abstract

A newly developed state-of-the-art snow water equivalent (SWE) reanalysis dataset over the Sierra Nevada (United States) based on the assimilation of remotely sensed fractional snow-covered area data over the Landsat 5–8 record (1985–2015) is presented. The method (fully Bayesian), resolution (daily and 90 m), temporal extent (31 years), and accuracy provide a unique dataset for investigating snow processes. The verified dataset (based on a comparison with over 9000 station years of in situ data) exhibited mean and root-mean-square errors less than 3 and 13 cm, respectively, and correlation greater than 0.95 compared with in situ SWE observations. The reanalysis dataset was used to characterize the peak SWE climatology to provide a basic accounting of the stored snowpack water in the Sierra Nevada over the last 31 years. The pixel-wise peak SWE volume over the domain was found to be 20.0 km3 on average with a range of 4.0–40.6 km3. The ongoing drought in California contains the two lowest snowpack years (water years 2014 and 2015) and three of the four driest years over the examined record. It was found that the basin-average peak SWE, while underestimating the total water storage in snowpack over the year, accurately captures the interannual variability in stored snowpack water. However, the results showed that the assumption that 1 April SWE is representative of the peak SWE can lead to significant underestimation of basin-average peak SWE both on an average (21% across all basins) and on an interannual basis (up to 98% across all basin years).

Corresponding author address: Steve Margulis, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, 5732D Boelter Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095. E-mail: margulis@seas.ucla.edu

Abstract

A newly developed state-of-the-art snow water equivalent (SWE) reanalysis dataset over the Sierra Nevada (United States) based on the assimilation of remotely sensed fractional snow-covered area data over the Landsat 5–8 record (1985–2015) is presented. The method (fully Bayesian), resolution (daily and 90 m), temporal extent (31 years), and accuracy provide a unique dataset for investigating snow processes. The verified dataset (based on a comparison with over 9000 station years of in situ data) exhibited mean and root-mean-square errors less than 3 and 13 cm, respectively, and correlation greater than 0.95 compared with in situ SWE observations. The reanalysis dataset was used to characterize the peak SWE climatology to provide a basic accounting of the stored snowpack water in the Sierra Nevada over the last 31 years. The pixel-wise peak SWE volume over the domain was found to be 20.0 km3 on average with a range of 4.0–40.6 km3. The ongoing drought in California contains the two lowest snowpack years (water years 2014 and 2015) and three of the four driest years over the examined record. It was found that the basin-average peak SWE, while underestimating the total water storage in snowpack over the year, accurately captures the interannual variability in stored snowpack water. However, the results showed that the assumption that 1 April SWE is representative of the peak SWE can lead to significant underestimation of basin-average peak SWE both on an average (21% across all basins) and on an interannual basis (up to 98% across all basin years).

Corresponding author address: Steve Margulis, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, 5732D Boelter Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095. E-mail: margulis@seas.ucla.edu
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