Temporal observations of a seasonal snowpack using upward-looking GPR

Achim.Heilig [ at ] awi.de


An increase of the spatial and temporal resolution of snowpack measurements in Alpine or Arctic regions will improve the predictability of flood and avalanche hazards and increase the spatial validity of snowpack simulation models. In the winter season 2009, we installed a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) system beneath the snowpack to measure snowpack conditions above the antennas. In comparison with modulated frequency systems, GPR systems consist of a much simpler technology, are commercially available and therefore are cheaper. The radar observed the temporal alternation of the snow height over more than 2·5 months. The presented data showed that with moved antennas, it is possible to record the snow height with an uncertainty of less than 8% in comparison with the probed snow depth. Three persistent melt crusts, which formed at the snow surface and were buried by further new snow events, were used as reflecting tracers to follow the snow cover evolution and to determine the strain rates of underlaying layers between adjacent measurements. The height in two-way travel time of each layer changed over time, which is a cumulative effect of settlement and variation of wave speed in response to densification and liquid water content. The infiltration of liquid water with depth during melt processes was clearly observed during one event. All recorded reflections appeared in concordance with the physical principles (e.g. in phase structure), and one can assume that distinct density steps above a certain threshold result in reflections in the radargram. The accuracy of the used impulse radar system in determining the snow water equivalent is in good agreement with previous studies, which used continuous wave radar systems. The results of this pilot study encourage further investigations with radar measurements using the described test arrangement on a daily basis for continuous destruction-free monitoring of the snow cover.

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DOI 10.1002/hyp.7749

Cite as
Heilig, A. , Eisen, O. and Schneebeli, M. (2010): Temporal observations of a seasonal snowpack using upward-looking GPR , Hydrological Processes, 24 , pp. 3133-3145 . doi: 10.1002/hyp.7749

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