The Utility of Optical Satellite Winter Snow Depths for Initializing a Glacio-Hydrological Model of a High-Elevation, Andean Catchment

Thomas E. Shaw*, Alexis Caro, Pablo Mendoza, Álvaro Ayala, Francesca Pellicciotti, Simon Gascoin, James McPhee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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Information about end-of-winter spatial distribution of snow depth is important for seasonal forecasts of spring/summer streamflow in high-mountain regions. Nevertheless, such information typically relies upon extrapolation from a sparse network of observations at low elevations. Here, we test the potential of high-resolution snow depth data derived from optical stereophotogrammetry of Pléiades satellites for improving the representation of snow depth initial conditions (SDICs) in a glacio-hydrological model and assess potential improvements in the skill of snowmelt and streamflow simulations in a high-elevation Andean catchment. We calibrate model parameters controlling glacier mass balance and snow cover evolution using ground-based and satellite observations, and consider the relative importance of accurate estimates of SDICs compared to model parameters and forcings. We find that Pléiades SDICs improve the simulation of snow-covered area, glacier mass balance, and monthly streamflow compared to alternative SDICs based upon extrapolation of meteorological variables or statistical methods to estimate SDICs based upon topography. Model simulations are found to be sensitive to SDICs in the early spring (up to 48% variability in modeled streamflow compared to the best estimate model), and to temperature gradients in all months that control albedo and melt rates over a large elevation range (>2,400 m). As such, appropriately characterizing the distribution of total snow volume with elevation is important for reproducing total streamflow and the proportions of snowmelt. Therefore, optical stereo-photogrammetry offers an advantage for obtaining SDICs that aid both the timing and magnitude of streamflow simulations, process representation (e.g., snow cover evolution) and has the potential for large spatial domains.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020WR027188
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
Early online date31 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


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