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Assessing the seasonal evolution of snow depth spatial variability and scaling in complex mountain terrain

December 8, 2022

Dynamic natural processes govern snow distribution in mountainous environments throughout the world. Interactions between these different processes create spatially variable patterns of snow depth across a landscape. Variations in accumulation and redistribution occur at a variety of spatial scales, which are well established for moderate mountain terrain. However, spatial patterns of snow depth variability in steep, complex mountain terrain have not been fully explored due to insufficient spatial resolutions of snow depth measurement. Recent advances in uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) and structure from motion (SfM) photogrammetry provide an opportunity to map spatially continuous snow depths at high resolutions in these environments. Using UASs and SfM photogrammetry, we produced 11 snow depth maps at a steep couloir site in the Bridger Range of Montana, USA, during the 2019–2020 winter. We quantified the spatial scales of snow depth variability in this complex mountain terrain at a variety of resolutions over 2 orders of magnitude (0.02 to 20 m) and time steps (4 to 58 d) using variogram analysis in a high-performance computing environment. We found that spatial resolutions greater than 0.5 m do not capture the complete patterns of snow depth spatial variability within complex mountain terrain and that snow depths are autocorrelated within horizontal distances of 15 m at our study site. The results of this research have the potential to reduce uncertainty currently associated with snowpack and snow water resource analysis by documenting and quantifying snow depth variability and snowpack evolution on relatively inaccessible slopes in complex terrain at high spatial and temporal resolutions.

Publication Year 2022
Title Assessing the seasonal evolution of snow depth spatial variability and scaling in complex mountain terrain
DOI 10.5194/tc-16-4907-2022
Authors Zachary Miller, Erich Peitzsch, Eric A. Sproles, Karl W. Birkeland, Ross T. Palomaki
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title The Cryosphere
Index ID 70238777
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center