Geography Measurement of Terrestrial Snow
Nicholas J. Kinar, John W. Pomeroy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0225


Snow on the land surface is an important component of the hydrological cycle in cold regions and acts as a hydrologic reservoir with a residence time that introduces a delay before ablation when runoff from snowmelt enters rivers, streams, and aquifers. Mass and energy fluxes between the snowpack and the atmosphere affect climate, temperature, and biogeochemical cycles in cold regions. Snow is a thermal insulator and the presence or absence of snow influences soil temperatures and soil water content that affect the growth of plants and agricultural crops. Snowpack chemistry is indicative of atmospheric pollutants and ions present in snowmelt runoff affect water quality and biological processes. Changes in the snowpack due to mass and energy fluxes associated with heat transport modify snow particle size, snow structure, and density, influencing albedo, permeability, air and water transport through snow, the rate of snowmelt, and mechanical properties. In some regions, snowmelt is a source of water for hydroelectric power generation, agricultural production, and human consumption. Accumulation of snow in complex terrain and snowpack metamorphic processes contribute to avalanche activity that redistributes snow between different areas but also influences biogeography and creates human hazards in regions where the spatial distribution of snow is important for winter recreation and skiing activities. Wind is also responsible for redistribution of snow and affects the spatial distribution of snowcover. Measurement of snow quantifies the spatial distribution of snowpack properties and provides inputs for mathematical models used for prediction and forecasting of flooding, drought, runoff, climate change, and avalanche activity for assessment of water resources and regional hazards. Snowpack measurements also provide insight into hydrological processes related to snow in a temporal and geographic context, allowing for a better scientific understanding of these processes and providing a means for the development of more accurate mathematical models. This bibliography provides an overview of how terrestrial snow properties and processes are measured. Papers were selected for this bibliography based on pedagogical value and an emphasis on important research conducted during the last thirty years for an up-to-date overview, although earlier papers and monographs are also included that had an influence on snow hydrology in a historical context.

General Introductions and Reference Works

The Gray and Male 1981 handbook serves as a basic starting point for the science and associated engineering related to snow and snowpack processes. DeWalle and Rango 2008 provides an updated overview compared to Gray and Male 1981 but does not include the same level of information related to civil engineering applications. The Armstrong and Brun 2010 book has more of a focus on snow-climate interactions, whereas Jones, et al. 2011 clearly shows relationships between biogeography and snowpack processes. Seidel and Martinec 2004 has a primary emphasis on remote sensing whereas DeWalle and Rango 2008 covers remote sensing of snow for model assimilation where the remote sensing data is utilized for model inputs. Blöschl 1999 provides an overview of how scale affects the measurement and associated spatial analysis of snow.

  • Armstrong, R. L., and E. Brun, eds. Snow and Climate: Physical Processes, Surface Energy Exchange and Modeling. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    This monograph features individual chapters written by researchers who have extensively conducted studies related to snowpack modeling, energy, and mass balances. Chapters on measurement of snow and snow physics make this book an excellent introduction to snow with a regional and global emphasis on spatially distributed climate and atmospheric processes.

  • Blöschl, G. “Scaling Issues in Snow Hydrology.” Hydrological Processes 13.14–15 (1999): 2149–2175.

    DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1085(199910)13:14/15<2149::AID-HYP847>3.0.CO;2-8

    A wide-ranging paper that reviews the variability of spatial snow datasets, indicating methods for characterization as well as spatial upscaling and downscaling. The geostatistical variogram is clearly explained as a starting point for characterizing how a snowpack quantity changes over distance. Fractal scaling is also addressed in the context of variogram analysis. The author introduces frameworks for quantifying scale, indicating how artifacts can influence quantitative calculations.

  • DeWalle, D. R., and A. Rango. Principles of Snow Hydrology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511535673

    A wide-ranging textbook that describes basic principles of remote sensing and snowpack modeling for estimation of accumulation, snowmelt, and runoff. Suitable for use in a class at the undergraduate level.

  • Gray, D. M., and D. H. Male, eds. Handbook of Snow: Principles, Processes, Management and Use. Toronto: Pergamon Press Canada, 1981.

    Well-known to snow scientists, consultants, and resource managers as a classic handbook, this work does not include recent advances in measurement and modeling of snow but serves as an important reference on snowpack properties and physics. Chapters on measurement, snow surveying, avalanches, and civil engineering applications make this handbook suitable for classes at the graduate level or as a general reference work.

  • Jones, H. G., J. W. Pomeroy, D. A. Walker, and R. W. Hoham, eds. Snow Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Examination of Snow-Covered Ecosystems. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    Discusses the physics of snowpack processes in the context of plant and animal biogeography. Provides excellent overviews of the spatial distribution of plants related to snow-vegetation interactions but also discusses snow microbiology and animals that live in the snowpack. A chapter on tree-ring dating for measurement of climate associated with past snowcover enhances the wide range of topics in this monograph.

  • Seidel, K., and J. Martinec. Remote Sensing in Snow Hydrology: Runoff Modelling, Effect of Climate Change. Berlin and London: Springer Science & Business Media, 2004.

    Shows how remote sensing can be used to provide inputs to mathematical models used for prediction of future and present climate processes. This book provides an excellent description of statistics used for characterization of snow-covered area and implications for runoff.

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