Operational ground-based measurements of snow water equivalent (SWE) do not adequately explain spatial variability in mountainous terrain. To address this problem, we combine satellite-based retrievals of fractional snow cover for the period 2000 to 2011 with spatially distributed energy balance calculations to reconstruct SWE values throughout each melt season in the Sierra Nevada of California. Modeled solar radiation, longwave radiation, and air temperature from NLDAS drive the snowmelt model. The modeled solar radiation compares well to ground observations, but modeled longwave radiation is slightly lower than observations. Validation of reconstructed SWE with snow courses and our own snow surveys shows that the model can accurately estimate SWE at the sampled locations in a variety of topographic settings for a range of wet to dry years. The relationships of SWE with elevation and latitude are significantly different for wet, mean and dry years as well as between drainages. In all the basins studied, the relationship between remaining SWE and snow-covered area (SCA) becomes increasingly correlated from March to July as expected because SCA is an important model input. Though the SWE is calculated retrospectively SCA observations are available in near-real time and combined with historical reconstructions may be sufficient for estimating SWE with more confidence as the melt season progresses.
Rittger, K., Bair, E. H., Kahl, A., & Dozier, J. (2016). Spatial estimates of snow water equivalent from reconstruction. Advances in Water Resources, 94, 345–363. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.advwatres.2016.05.015