Field campaigns and permanent in-situ facilities provide extensive measurements of snowpack properties at catchment (or smaller) scales, and have consistently improved our understanding of snow processes and the estimation of snow water resources. However, snow depth, one of the most important snow states, has been measured almost entirely with discrete point-scale samplings in field measurements; spatiotemporally continuous snow depth measurements are nearly nonexistent, mainly due to the high cost of airborne flights and the ban of Unmanned Aerial Systems in many areas (e.g. in all the national parks).
In this study, we estimate spatially continuous snow depth from photogrammetric reconstruction of aerial photos taken from a weather balloon. The study was conducted in a 0.2 km2 watershed in Wolverton, Sequoia National Park, California. We tied a point-and-shoot camera on a helium-inflated weather balloon to take aerial images; the camera was scripted to automatically capture images every 3 seconds and to record the camera position and orientation at the imaging times using a built-in GPS. With the 2D images of the snow-covered ground and the camera position and orientation data, the 3D coordinates of the snow surface were reconstructed at 10 cm resolution using photogrammetry software PhotoScan. Similar measurements were taken for the snow-free ground after snowmelt, and the snow depth was estimated from the difference between the snow-on and snow-off measurements. Comparing the photogrammetric-estimated snow depths with the 32 manually measured depths, taken at the same time as the snow-on balloon flight, we find the RMSE of the photogrammetric snow depth is 7 cm, which is ~2% of the long-term peak snow depth in the study area.
This study suggests that the balloon photogrammetry is a repeatable, economical, simple, and environmental-friendly method to continuously monitor snow at small-scales. Spatiotemporally continuous snow depth could be regularly measured in future field measurements to supplement traditional snow property observations. In addition, since the process of collecting and processing balloon photogrammetry data is straightforward, the photogrammetric snow depth could be shared with the public in real time using our cloud platform that is currently under development.
Li, D.; Wigmore, O.; Vanderjagt, B.J.; Durand, M.T.; Molotch, N.P.; Bales, R.C. (2016): Catchment-scale snow depth monitoring with balloon photogrammetry. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2016. Abstract C51C-0669..