Researchers use satellite data to calculate snow depth in mountain ranges

phys.org | 6/21/2019 | Staff
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Bioscience engineers at KU Leuven (Belgium) have developed a method to measure the snow depth in all mountain ranges in the Northern Hemisphere using satellites. This technique makes it possible to study areas that cannot be accessed for local measurements, such as the Himalayas. The findings were published in Nature Communications.

"In Western Europe, we tend to associate snow with ski trips, outdoor fun, or traffic jams, which goes to show that the importance of snow is often underestimated," says postdoctoral researcher Hans Lievens from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at KU Leuven, who is the lead author of this study.

Year - Fifth - Northern - Hemisphere - Snow

"Each year, a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere gets covered in snow. More than one billion people rely on this snow for drinking water. Melting water is also very important for agriculture and the production of electricity. "Furthermore, snow has a cooling effect on our climate by reflecting sunlight."

As part of an international team, Lievens studied the snow depth in more than 700 mountain ranges in the Northern Hemisphere. The team used radar measurements provided by Sentinel-1, a satellite mission of the European Space Agency (ESA). The researchers analysed the data for the period between the Winter of 2016 up to and including the Summer of 2018.

Sentinel-1 - Mission - Surface - Earth - Lievens

"The Sentinel-1 mission specifically aims to observe the surface of the Earth," says Lievens. "The satellite emits radar waves and, based on the reflection of these waves, we can calculate the snow depth. The ice crystals rotate the signal: the more rotated the waves, the more snow there is."

Existing calculations of snow depth are often based on local measurements, but in many cases, these offer an inaccurate or incomplete picture. In the Himalayas, for instance, in-situ measurements are almost impossible due to the extreme...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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