Proof of Concept: Development of Snow Liquid Water Content Profiler Using CS650 Reflectometers at Caribou, ME, USA

Sensors (Basel). 2017 Mar 21;17(3):647. doi: 10.3390/s17030647.


The quantity of liquid water in the snowpack defines its wetness. The temporal evolution of snow wetness's plays a significant role in wet-snow avalanche prediction, meltwater release, and water availability estimations and assessments within a river basin. However, it remains a difficult task and a demanding issue to measure the snowpack's liquid water content (LWC) and its temporal evolution with conventional in situ techniques. We propose an approach based on the use of time-domain reflectometry (TDR) and CS650 soil water content reflectometers to measure the snowpack's LWC and temperature profiles. For this purpose, we created an easily-applicable, low-cost, automated, and continuous LWC profiling instrument using reflectometers at the Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Center-Snow Analysis and Field Experiment (CREST-SAFE) in Caribou, ME, USA, and tested it during the snow melt period (February-April) immediately after installation in 2014. Snow Thermal Model (SNTHERM) LWC simulations forced with CREST-SAFE meteorological data were used to evaluate the accuracy of the instrument. Results showed overall good agreement, but clearly indicated inaccuracy under wet snow conditions. For this reason, we present two (for dry and wet snow) statistical relationships between snow LWC and dielectric permittivity similar to Topp's equation for the LWC of mineral soils. These equations were validated using CREST-SAFE in situ data from winter 2015. Results displayed high agreement when compared to LWC estimates obtained using empirical formulas developed in previous studies, and minor improvement over wet snow LWC estimates. Additionally, the equations seemed to be able to capture the snowpack state (i.e., onset of melt, medium, and maximum saturation). Lastly, field test results show advantages, such as: automated, continuous measurements, the temperature profiling of the snowpack, and the possible categorization of its state. However, future work should focus on improving the instrument's capability to measure the snowpack's LWC profile by properly calibrating it with in situ LWC measurements. Acceptable validation agreement indicates that the developed snow LWC, temperature, and wetness profiler offers a promising new tool for snow hydrology research.

Keywords: snow; snow liquid water content; snow wetness; wet snow.