Using crowdsourced web content for informing water systems operations in snow-dominated catchments
Snow is a key component of the hydrologic cycle in many regions of the world. Despite recent advances in environmental monitoring that are making a wide range of data available, continuous snow monitoring systems that can collect data at high spatial and temporal resolution are not well established yet, especially in inaccessible high-latitude or mountainous regions. The unprecedented availability of user-generated data on the web is opening new opportunities for enhancing real-time monitoring and modeling of environmental systems based on data that are public, low-cost, and spatiotemporally dense. In this paper, we contribute a novel crowdsourcing procedure for extracting snow-related information from public web images, either produced by users or generated by touristic webcams. A fully automated process fetches mountain images from multiple sources, identifies the peaks present therein, and estimates virtual snow indexes representing a proxy of the snow-covered area. Our procedure has the potential for complementing traditional snow-related information, minimizing costs and efforts for obtaining the virtual snow indexes and, at the same time, maximizing the portability of the procedure to several locations where such public images are available. The operational value of the obtained virtual snow indexes is assessed for a real-world water-management problem, the regulation of Lake Como, where we use these indexes for informing the daily operations of the lake. Numerical results show that such information is effective in extending the anticipation capacity of the lake operations, ultimately improving the system performance.