Near Real-Time Measurement of Snow Water Equivalent in the Nepal Himalayas (2019)

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Seasonal snow is an important component of the Himalayan hydrological system, but a lack of observations at high altitude hampers understanding and forecasting of water availability in this region. Here, we use a passive gamma ray sensor that measures snow water equivalent (SWE) and complementary meteorological instruments installed at 4962 m a.s.l. in the Nepal Himalayas to quantify the evolution of SWE and snow depth over a 2-year period. We assess the accuracy, spatial representativeness and the applicability of the SWE and snow depth measurements using time-lapse camera imagery and field observations. The instrument setup performs well for snowpacks >50 mm SWE, but caution must be applied when interpreting measurements from discontinuous, patchy snow cover or those that contain lenses of refrozen meltwater. Over their typical ∼6-month lifetime, snowpacks in this setting can attain up to 200 mm SWE, of which 10–15% consists of mixed precipitation and rain-on-snow events. Precipitation gauges significantly underrepresent the solid fraction of precipitation received at this elevation by almost 40% compared to the gamma ray sensor. The application of sub-daily time-lapse camera imagery can help to correctly interpret and increase the reliability and representativeness of snowfall measurements. Our monitoring approach provides high quality, continuous, near-real time information that is essential to develop snow models in this data scarce region. We recommend that a similar instrument setup be extended into remote Himalayan environments to facilitate widespread snowpack monitoring and further our understanding of the high-altitude water cycle.
Year: 2019
Language: English
In: Frontiers in Earth Science, 7 (177):

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 Record created 2019-10-01, last modified 2019-10-01