Tower-based C-band radar measurements of an alpine snowpack

Brangers, Isis; Marshall, Hans-Peter; De Lannoy, Gabrielle; Dunmire, Devon; Matzler, Christian; Lievens, Hans

To better understand the interactions between C-band radar waves and snow, a tower-based experiment was set up in the Idaho Rocky Mountains for the period of 2021–2023. The experiment objective was to improve understanding of the sensitivity of Sentinel-1 C-band backscatter radar signals to snow. The data were collected in the time domain to measure the backscatter profile from the various snowpack and ground surface layers. The data show that scattering is present throughout the snow volume, although it is limited for low snow densities. Contrasting layer interfaces, ice features and metamorphic snow can have considerable impact on the backscatter signal. During snow melt periods, wet snow absorbs the signal and the soil backscatter becomes negligible. A comparison of the vertically integrated tower radar data with Sentinel-1 data shows that both systems have a similar temporal behavior, and both feature an increase in backscatter during the dry snow period in 2021–2022, even during weeks of nearly constant snow depth, likely due to morphological changes in the snowpack. The results demonstrate that C-band radar is sensitive to the dominant seasonal patterns in snow accumulation, but that changes in microstructure, stratigraphy, melt-freeze cycles, and snow wetness may complicate satellite-based snow depth retrievals.

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Brangers, Isis / Marshall, Hans-Peter / De Lannoy, Gabrielle / et al: Tower-based C-band radar measurements of an alpine snowpack. 2023. Copernicus Publications.

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