Articles | Volume 14, issue 12
Research article
13 Dec 2010
Research article |  | 13 Dec 2010

Mapping snow depth return levels: smooth spatial modeling versus station interpolation

J. Blanchet and M. Lehning

Abstract. For adequate risk management in mountainous countries, hazard maps for extreme snow events are needed. This requires the computation of spatial estimates of return levels. In this article we use recent developments in extreme value theory and compare two main approaches for mapping snow depth return levels from in situ measurements. The first one is based on the spatial interpolation of pointwise extremal distributions (the so-called Generalized Extreme Value distribution, GEV henceforth) computed at station locations. The second one is new and based on the direct estimation of a spatially smooth GEV distribution with the joint use of all stations. We compare and validate the different approaches for modeling annual maximum snow depth measured at 100 sites in Switzerland during winters 1965–1966 to 2007–2008. The results show a better performance of the smooth GEV distribution fitting, in particular where the station network is sparser. Smooth return level maps can be computed from the fitted model without any further interpolation. Their regional variability can be revealed by removing the altitudinal dependent covariates in the model. We show how return levels and their regional variability are linked to the main climatological patterns of Switzerland.