Assessing the seasonal evolution of snow depth spatial variability and scaling in complex mountain terrain

The Cryosphere
By: , and 



Dynamic natural processes govern snow distribution in mountainous environments throughout the world. Interactions between these different processes create spatially variable patterns of snow depth across a landscape. Variations in accumulation and redistribution occur at a variety of spatial scales, which are well established for moderate mountain terrain. However, spatial patterns of snow depth variability in steep, complex mountain terrain have not been fully explored due to insufficient spatial resolutions of snow depth measurement. Recent advances in uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) and structure from motion (SfM) photogrammetry provide an opportunity to map spatially continuous snow depths at high resolutions in these environments. Using UASs and SfM photogrammetry, we produced 11 snow depth maps at a steep couloir site in the Bridger Range of Montana, USA, during the 2019–2020 winter. We quantified the spatial scales of snow depth variability in this complex mountain terrain at a variety of resolutions over 2 orders of magnitude (0.02 to 20 m) and time steps (4 to 58 d) using variogram analysis in a high-performance computing environment. We found that spatial resolutions greater than 0.5 m do not capture the complete patterns of snow depth spatial variability within complex mountain terrain and that snow depths are autocorrelated within horizontal distances of 15 m at our study site. The results of this research have the potential to reduce uncertainty currently associated with snowpack and snow water resource analysis by documenting and quantifying snow depth variability and snowpack evolution on relatively inaccessible slopes in complex terrain at high spatial and temporal resolutions.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Assessing the seasonal evolution of snow depth spatial variability and scaling in complex mountain terrain
Series title The Cryosphere
DOI 10.5194/tc-16-4907-2022
Volume 16
Issue 12
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Copernicus Journals
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 24 p.
First page 4907
Last page 4930
Country United States
State Montana
Other Geospatial Bridger Range
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