Characterizing tundra snow sub-pixel variability to improve brightness temperature estimation in satellite SWE retrievals

Julien Meloche*, Alexandre Langlois, Nick Rutter, Alain Royer, Josh King, Branden Walker, Philip Marsh, Evan Wilcox

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Topography and vegetation play a major role in sub-pixel variability of Arctic snowpack properties, but are not considered in current passive microwave (PMW) satellite SWE retrievals. Simulation of sub-pixel variability of snow properties is also problematic when downscaling snow and climate models. In this study, we simplified observed variability of snowpack properties (depth, density, microstructure) in a two-layer model with mean values and distributions of two multi-year tundra dataset so they could be incorporated in SWE retrieval schemes. Spatial variation of snow depth was parametrized by a log-normal distribution with mean (μ_sd) values and coefficients of variation (CV_sd). Snow depth variability (CV_sd) was found to increase as a function of the area measured by a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). Distributions of snow specific surface area (SSA) and density were found for the wind slab (WS) and depth hoar (DH) layers. The mean depth hoar fraction (DHF) was found to be higher in Trail Valley Creek (TVC) than in Cambridge Bay (CB) where TVC is at a lower latitude with a sub-arctic shrub tundra compared to CB which is a graminoid tundra. DHF were fitted with a gaussian process and predicted from snow depth. Simulations of brightness temperatures using the Snow Microwave Radiative Transfer (SMRT) model incorporating snow depth and DHF variation were evaluated with measurements from the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager and Sounder (SSMIS) sensor. Variation in snow depth (CV_sd) is proposed as an effective parameter to account for sub-pixel variability in PMW emission, improving simulation by 8K. SMRT simulations using a CV_sd of 0.9 best matched CV_sd observations from spatial datasets for areas > 3 km2, which is comparable to the 3.125 km pixel size of the Equal-Area Scalable Earth (EASE) grid 2.0 enhanced resolution at 37 GHz.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87–101
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing tundra snow sub-pixel variability to improve brightness temperature estimation in satellite SWE retrievals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this