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Chris Derksen, Arvids Silis, Matthew Sturm, Jon Holmgren, Glen E. Liston, Henry Huntington, and Daniel Solie


During April 2007, a coordinated series of snow measurements was made across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada, during a snowmobile traverse from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Baker Lake, Nunavut. The purpose of the measurements was to document the general nature of the snowpack across this region for the evaluation of satellite- and model-derived estimates of snow water equivalent (SWE). Although detailed, local snow measurements have been made as part of ongoing studies at tundra field sites (e.g., Daring Lake and Trail Valley Creek in the Northwest Territories; Toolik Lake and the Kuparak River basin in Alaska), systematic measurements at the regional scale have not been previously collected across this region of northern Canada. The snow cover consisted of depth hoar and wind slab with small and ephemeral fractions of new, recent, and icy snow. The snow was shallow (<40 cm deep), usually with fewer than six layers. Where snow was deposited on lake and river ice, it was shallower, denser, and more metamorphosed than where it was deposited on tundra. Although highly variable locally, no longitudinal gradients in snow distribution, magnitude, or structure were detected. This regional homogeneity allowed us to identify that the observed spatial variability in passive microwave brightness temperatures was related to subgrid fractional lake cover. Correlation analysis between lake fraction and Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) brightness temperature showed frequency dependent, seasonally evolving relationships consistent with lake ice drivers. Simulations of lake ice thickness and snow depth on lake ice produced from the Canadian Lake Ice Model (CLIMo) indicated that at low frequencies (6.9, 10.7 GHz), correlations with lake fraction were consistent through the winter season, whereas at higher frequencies (18.7, 36.5 GHz), the strength and direction of the correlations evolved consistently with the penetration depth as the influence of the subice water was replaced by emissions from the ice and snowpack. A regional rain-on-snow event created a surface ice lens that was detectable using the AMSR-E 36.5-GHz polarization gradient due to a strong response at the horizontal polarization. The appropriate polarization for remote sensing of the tundra snowpack depends on the application: horizontal measurements are suitable for ice lens detection; vertically polarized measurements are appropriate for deriving SWE estimates.

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