Simulation of Arctic snow microwave emission in surface-sensitive atmosphere channels

Mel Sandells*, Nick Rutter, Kirsty Wivell, Richard Essery, Stuart Fox, Chawn Harlow, Ghislain Picard, Alexandre Roy, Alain Royer, Peter Toose

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accurate simulations of snow emission in surface-sensitive microwave channels are needed to separate snow from atmospheric information essential for numerical weather prediction. Measurements from a field campaign in Trail Valley Creek, Inuvik, Canada during March 2018 were used to evaluate the Snow Microwave Radiative Transfer (SMRT) Model at 89 GHz and, for the first time, frequencies between 118 and 243 GHz. In situ data from 29 snow pits, including snow specific surface area, were used to calculate exponential correlation lengths to represent the snow microstructure and to initialize snowpacks for simulation with SMRT. Measured variability in snowpack properties was used to estimate uncertainty in the simulations. SMRT was coupled with the Atmospheric Radiative Transfer Simulator to account for the directionally-dependent emission and attenuation of radiation by the atmosphere. This is a major developmental step needed for top-of-atmosphere simulations of microwave brightness temperature at atmosphere-sensitive frequencies with SMRT. Nadir simulated brightness temperatures at 89, 118, 157, 183 and 243 GHz were compared with airborne measurements and with ground-based measurements at 89 GHz. Inclusion of anisotropic atmospheric radiance in SMRT had the greatest impact on brightness temperature simulations at 183 GHz and the least at 89 GHz. Medians of simulations compared well with medians of observations, with a root mean squared error of 14 K, across five frequencies and two flights (n=10). However, snowpit measurements did not capture the observed variability fully as simulations and airborne observations formed statistically different distributions. Topographical differences in simulated brightness temperature between sloped, valley and plateau areas diminished with increasing frequency as the penetration depth within the snow decreased and less emission from the underlying ground contributed to the airborne observations. Observed brightness temperature differences between flights were attributed to the deposition of a thin layer of very low density snow. This illustrates the need to account for both temporal and spatial variability in surface snow microstructure at these frequencies. Sensitivity to snow properties and the ability to reflect changes in observed brightness temperature across the frequency range for different landscapes, as demonstrated by SMRT, is a necessary condition for inclusion of atmospheric measurements at surface-sensitive frequencies in numerical weather prediction.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Cryosphere
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Jun 2024

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