Small-area snow surveys on the northern plains of North Dakota

Water-Resources Investigations Report 85-4026

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Snow-cover data are needed for many facets of hydrology. The variation in snow cover over small areas is the focus of this study. The feasibility of using aerial surveys to obtain information on the snow water equivalent of the snow cover in order to minimize the necessity of labor intensive ground snow surveys was- evaluated. A low-flying aircraft was used to measure attenuations of natural terrestrial gamma radiation by snow cover.

Aerial and ground snow surveys of eight 1-mile snow courses and one 4-mile snow course were used in the evaluation, with ground snow surveys used as the base to evaluate aerial data. Each of the 1-mile snow courses consisted of a single land use and all had the same terrain type (plane). The 4-mile snow course consists of a variety of land uses and the same terrain type (plane).

Using the aerial snow-survey technique, the snow water equivalent of the 1-mile snow courses was. measured with three passes of the aircraft. Use of more than one pass did not improve the results. The mean absolute difference between the aerial- and ground-measured snow water equivalents for the 1-mile snow courses was 26 percent (0.77 inches). The aerial snow water equivalents determined for the 1-mile snow courses were used to estimate the variations in the snow water equivalents over the 4-mile snow course. The weighted mean absolute difference for the 4-mile snow course was 27 percent (0.8 inches).

Variations in snow water equivalents could not be verified adequately by segmenting the aerial snow-survey data because of the uniformity found in the snow cover. On the 4-mile snow coirse, about two-thirds of the aerial snow-survey data agreed with the ground snow-survey data within the accuracy of the aerial technique ( + 0.5 inch of the mean snow water equivalent).

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Small-area snow surveys on the northern plains of North Dakota
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
North Dakota Water Science Center, Dakota Water Science Center
iv, 22 p.