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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Earth Sci. | doi: 10.3389/feart.2019.00177

Near Real-Time Measurement of Snow Water Equivalent in the Nepal Himalayas

  • 1British Antarctic Survey (BAS), United Kingdom
  • 2University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 3International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Nepal
  • 4Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate, Norway
  • 5Utrecht University, Netherlands

Seasonal snow is an important component of the Himalayan hydrological system, but a lack of observations at high altitude hampers understanding and forecasting of water availability in this region. Here, we use a passive gamma ray sensor that measures snow water equivalent (SWE) and complementary meteorological instruments installed at 4962 m a.s.l. in the Nepal Himalayas to quantify the evolution of SWE and snow depth over a two year period. We assess the accuracy, spatial representativeness and the applicability of the SWE and snow depth measurements using time lapse camera imagery and field observations. The instrument setup performs well for snowpacks >50 mm SWE, but caution must be applied when interpreting measurements from discontinuous, patchy snow cover or those that contain lenses of refrozen meltwater. Over their typical ~6 month lifetime, snowpacks in this setting can attain up to 200 mm SWE, of which 10-15 % consists of mixed precipitation and rain-on-snow events. Precipitation gauges significantly underrepresent the solid fraction of precipitation received at this elevation by almost 40 % compared to the CS725. The application of sub-daily time lapse camera imagery can help to correctly interpret and increase the reliability and representativeness of snowfall measurements. Our monitoring approach provides high quality, continuous, near real time information that is essential to develop snow models in this data scarce region. We recommend that a similar instrument setup be extended into remote Himalayan environments to facilitate widespread snowpack monitoring and further our understanding of the high-altitude water cycle.

Keywords: Snow water equivalant, high altitude, Himalaya, Near real time, gamma radiation, Snow

Received: 23 Jan 2019; Accepted: 21 Jun 2019.

Edited by:

Anthony Arendt, University of Washington, United States

Reviewed by:

Ward Van Pelt, Uppsala University, Sweden
Steven Margulis, University of California, Los Angeles, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Kirkham, Koch, Saloranta, Litt, Stigter, Møen, Thapa, Melvold and Immerzeel. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. James D. Kirkham, British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Cambridge, United Kingdom, jk675@cam.ac.uk