21 Jun 2021
21 Jun 2021
Status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Mapping snow depth and volume at the alpine watershed scale from aerial imagery using Structure from Motion

Joachim Meyer1, McKenzie Skiles1, Jeffrey Deems2, Kat Boremann3, and David Shean4 Joachim Meyer et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
  • 2National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 3Airborne Snow Observatories, Inc., Mammoth Lakes, CA, USA
  • 4Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Abstract. Time series mapping of water held as snow in the mountains at global scales is an unsolved challenge to date. In a few locations, lidar-based airborne campaigns have been used to provide valuable data sets that capture snow distribution in near real-time over multiple seasons. Here, an alternative method is presented to map snow depth and quantify snow volume using aerial images and Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry over an alpine watershed (300 km2). The results were compared at multiple resolutions to the lidar-derived snow depth measurements from the Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO), collected simultaneously. Where snow was mapped by both ASO and SfM, the depths compared well, with a mean difference between −0.02 m and 0.03 m, NMAD of 0.22 m, and close snow volume agreement (+/−5 %). ASO mapped a larger snow area relative to SfM, with SfM missing ~14 % of total snow volume as a result. Analyzing the differences shows that challenges for SfM photogrammetry remain in vegetated areas, over shallow snow (< 1 m), and slope angles over 50 degrees. Our results indicate that capturing large scale snow depth and volume with airborne images and photogrammetry could be an additional viable resource for understanding and monitoring snow water resources in certain environments.

Joachim Meyer et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2021-281', Anonymous Referee #1, 30 Jul 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Joachim Meyer, 25 Oct 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on hess-2021-281', Anonymous Referee #2, 23 Sep 2021
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Joachim Meyer, 25 Oct 2021

Joachim Meyer et al.

Joachim Meyer et al.


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Short summary
Seasonally accumulated snow in the mountains forms a natural water reservoir which is challenging to measure in the rugged and remote terrain. Here, we use overlapping aerial images that model surface elevations using software to map snow depth by calculating the difference in surface elevations between two dates, one with snow and one without. Results demonstrate the utility of aerial images to improve our ability to capture the amount of water held as snow in remote and inaccessible locations.