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Henkel, Patrick; Koch, Franziska; Appel, Florian; Bach, Heike; Prasch, Monika; Schmid, Lino; Schweizer, Jurg; Mauser, Wolfram (2018): Snow Water Equivalent of Dry Snow Derived From GNSS Carrier Phases. In: IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Vol. 56, No. 6: pp. 3561-3572
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Abstract

Snow water equivalent (SWE) is a key variable for various hydrological applications. It is defined as the depth of water that would result upon complete melting of a mass of snow. However, until now, continuous measurements of the SWE are either scarce, expensive, labor-intense, or lack temporal or spatial resolution especially in mountainous and remote regions. We derive the SWE for dry-snow conditions using carrier phase measurements from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers. Two static GNSS receivers are used, whereby one antenna is placed below the snow and the other antenna is placed above the snow. The carrier phase measurements of both receivers are combined in double differences (DDs) to eliminate clock offsets and phase biases and to mitigate atmospheric errors. Each DD carrier phase measurement depends on the relative position between both antennas, an integer ambiguity due to the periodic nature of the carrier phase signal, and the SWE projected into the direction of incidence. The relative positions of the antennas are determined under snow-free conditions with millimeter accuracy using real-time kinematic positioning. Subsequently, the SWE and carrier phase integer ambiguities are jointly estimated with an integer least-squares estimator. We tested our method at an Alpine test site in Switzerland during the dry-snow season 2015-2016. The SWE derived solely by the GNSS shows very high correlation with conventionally measured snow pillow (root mean square error: 11 mm) and manual snow pit data. This method can be applied to dense low-cost GNSS receiver networks to improve the spatial and temporal information on snow.