Journal article

Statistical modelling of the snow depth distribution in open alpine terrain

The spatial distribution of alpine snow covers is characterised by large variability. Taking this variability into account is important for many tasks including hydrology, glaciology, ecology or natural hazards. Statistical modelling is frequently applied to assess the spatial variability of the snow cover. For this study, we assembled seven data sets of high-resolution snow-depth measurements from different mountain regions around the world. All data were obtained from airborne laser scanning near the time of maximum seasonal snow accumulation. Topographic parameters were used to model the snow depth distribution on the catchment-scale by applying multiple linear regressions. We found that by averaging out the substantial spatial heterogeneity at the metre scales, i.e. individual drifts and aggregating snow accumulation at the landscape or hydrological response unit scale (cell size 400 m), that 30 to 91% of the snow depth variability can be explained by models that are calibrated to local conditions at the single study areas. As all sites were sparsely vegetated, only a few topographic variables were included as explanatory variables, including elevation, slope, the deviation of the aspect from north (northing), and a wind sheltering parameter. In most cases, elevation, slope and northing are very good predictors of snow distribution. A comparison of the models showed that importance of parameters and their coefficients differed among the catchments. A "global" model, combining all the data from all areas investigated, could only explain 23% of the variability. It appears that local statistical models cannot be transferred to different regions. However, models developed on one peak snow season are good predictors for other peak snow seasons.


Related material