A method for assimilating remotely sensed snow covered area (SCA) into the snow subroutine of a grid distributed precipitation-runoff model (PRM) is presented. The PRM is assumed to simulate the snow state in each grid cell by a snow depletion curve (SDC), which relates that cell's SCA to its snow cover mass balance. The assimilation is based on Bayes' theorem, which requires a joint prior distribution of the SDC variables in all the grid cells. In this paper we propose a spatial model for this prior distribution, and include similarities and dependencies among the grid cells. Used to represent the PRM simulated snow cover state, our joint prior model regards two elevation gradients and a degree-day factor as global variables, rather than describing their effect separately for each cell. This transformation results in smooth normalised surfaces for the two related mass balance variables, supporting a strong inter-cell dependency in their joint prior model. The global features and spatial interdependency in the prior model cause each SCA observation to provide information for many grid cells. The spatial approach similarly facilitates the utilisation of observed discharge.
Assimilation of SCA data using the proposed spatial model is evaluated in a 2400 km2 mountainous region in central Norway (61° N, 9° E), based on two Landsat 7 ETM+ images generalized to 1 km2 resolution. An image acquired on 11 May, a week before the peak flood, removes 78% of the variance in the remaining snow storage. Even an image from 4 May, less than a week after the melt onset, reduces this variance by 53%. These results are largely improved compared to a cell-by-cell independent assimilation routine previously reported. Including observed discharge in the updating information improves the 4 May results, but has weak effect on 11 May. Estimated elevation gradients are shown to be sensitive to informational deficits occurring at high altitude, where snowmelt has not started and the snow coverage is close to unity. Caution is therefore required when using early images.
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