Understanding the passive microwave emissions of a snowpack, as observed by satellite sensors, requires knowledge of the snowpack properties: water equivalent, grain size, density, and stratigraphy. For the snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin, measurements of snow depth and water equivalent are routinely available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but extremely limited information is available for the other properties. To provide this information, a field program from 1984 to 1995 obtained profiles of snowpack grain size, density, and temperature near the time of maximum snow accumulation, at sites distributed across the basin. A synoptic basin-wide sampling program in 1985 showed that the snowpack exhibits consistent properties across large regions. Typically, the snowpack in the Wyoming region contains large amounts of depth hoar, with grain sizes up to 5 mm, while the snowpack in Colorado and Utah is dominated by rounded snow grains less than 2 mm in diameter. In the Wyoming region, large depth hoar crystals in shallow snowpacks yield the lowest emissivities or coldest brightness temperatures observed across the entire basin. Yearly differences in the average grain sizes result primarily from variations in the relative amount of depth hoar within the snowpack. The average grain size for the Colorado and Utah regions shows much less variation than do the grain sizes from the Wyoming region. Furthermore, the greatest amounts of depth hoar occur in the Wyoming region during 1987 and 1992, years with strong El Nin??o Southern Oscillation, but the Colorado and Utah regions do not show this behavior.
Additional publication details
The effects of snowpack grain size on satellite passive microwave observations from the Upper Colorado River Basin