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Snow monitoring

Snow monitoring

We monitor snow evolution at high-resolution in real-time.

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Snow in the mountains: the water bank

The snow plays a crucial role for many human activities. It is like a water tower that stocks the water during winter and releases it downstream during the melting season.

“How much snow is in that watershed? Is the snow condition potentially dangerous? When will it melt?”

This is the key question that water managers and public officers are asking during winter time. The answer to this question may not only help to plan industrial production, for example for hydro-power players, but also to address water resources balances at regional or national scale.

Current approach for snow monitoring

The current approach in snow monitoring is based on snow measurements, like in-situ snow gauges. These stations, however, cannot cover all areas and basins. For these reasons, during Winter and Spring, several measurement campaigns are organized on selected basins to increase the number of measurements.
Despite its numerosity, in-situ measurements provide only point-wise information and thus need to be spatially interpolated. The common approach is to use statistical models seeking a correlation with morphological features, with a final correction through the snow covered area derived by satellite images.

Despite its popularity, this approach is subject to some drawbacks:

  • Snow gauges require high cost for installation and maintenance;

  • The calculation of snow water equivalent (SWE) requires the measurement and subsequent spatial interpolation of snow density with consequent increase of complexity and uncertainty;

  • During the melting season few measurements are available and statistical models fail to obtain a reasonable correlation;

  • the organization of snow measurement campaigns limits its application only to small basins and requires special training due to the avalanche risk;

  • They fail to account for the ful morphological heterogeneity typical of mountain environments;

  • The high cost of manpower limits the update frequency to just fifteen days.

New technology for high-resolution high-frequency snow monitoring

Waterjade exploits a new technology built upon a physically-based approach. Each point of the basin is assigned its topographical characteristics in terms of elevation, slope and aspect in order to account for the shadowing effect typical of the complex morphology. Then a specifically designed snow model derives the snow evolution by solving the mass and energy conservation equations on the snow pack.

This allows to distinguish the physical processes commanding snow evolution (accumulation, compaction and melting) and eventually to estimate snow depth and snow water equivalent.
The advantages of this technology are:

  • It is possible to expand the monitoring to whatever catchment scale. Currently we operate on the Alps, Apennines and Pyrenees;

  • It accounts for the full morphological heterogeneity of mountain environments;

  • It is not constrained by the necessary presence of in-situ measurement, with consequent savings of money and increased update frequency;

  • Compared with state-of-the-art approaches, the accuracy is greatly improved;

  • This approach allows to feed the model with weather forecast and thus to obtain snow evolution prediction for the succeeding days.


Hydropower plants

Public agencies

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