Estimating snow mass in North America through assimilation of AMSR-E brightness temperature observations using the Catchment land surface model and support vector machines


To estimate snow mass across North America, multi-frequency brightness temperature (Tb) observations collected by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer - Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) from 2002 to 2011 were assimilated into the Catchment land surface model using a support vector machine (SVM) as the observation operator as part of a one-dimensional ensemble Kalman filter. The performance of the assimilation system is evaluated through comparisons against ground-based measurements and publicly-available reference SWE and snow depth products. Assimilation estimates agree better with ground-based snow depth measurements than model-only (“open loop”, or OL) estimates in approximately 82% (56 out of 62) of pixels that are colocated with at least two ground-based stations. In addition, assimilation estimates tend to agree better with all snow products over tundra snow, alpine snow, maritime snow, as well as sparsely-vegetated snow-covered pixels. Improvements in snow mass via assimilation translate into improvements in cumulative runoff estimates when compared against discharge measurements in 11 out of 13 major snow-dominated basins in Alaska. These results prove that a SVM can serve as an efficient and effective observation operator for snow mass estimation within a radiance assimilation system.