Snowmelt from mountain forests is critically important for water resources and hydropower generation. More than 75% of surface water supply originates as snowmelt in mountainous regions, such as the western U.S. Remote sensing has the potential to measure snowpack in these areas accurately. In this research, we combine light detection and ranging (lidar) from crewed aircraft (currently, the most reliable way of measuring snow depth in mountain forests) and structure from motion (SfM) remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) for cost-effective multi-temporal monitoring of snowpack in mountain forests. In sparsely forested areas, both technologies give similar snow depth maps, with a comparable agreement with ground-based snow depth observations (RMSE ~10 cm). In densely forested areas, airborne lidar is better able to represent snow depth than RPAS-SfM (RMSE ~10 cm vs ~10-20 cm). In addition, we find the relationship between RPAS-SfM and previous lidar snow depth data can be used to estimate snow depth conditions outside of relatively small RPAS-SfM monitoring plots, with RMSE's between these observed and estimated snow depths on the order of 10-15 cm for the larger lidar coverages. This suggests that when a single airborne lidar snow survey exists, RPAS-SfM may provide useful multi-temporal snow monitoring that can estimate basin-scale snowpack, at a much lower cost than multiple airborne lidar surveys. Doing so requires a pre-existing mid-winter or peak-snowpack airborne lidar snow survey, and subsequent well-designed paired SfM and field snow surveys that accurately capture substantial snow depth variability.
- Remotely piloted aircraft systems
- Structure from motion
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)