The seasonal snow-cover is one of the most rapidly varying natural surface features on Earth. It strongly modulates the terrestrial water, energy, and carbon balance. Fractional snow-covered area (fSCA) is an essential snow variable that can be retrieved from multispectral satellite imagery. In this study, we evaluate fSCA retrievals from multiple sensors that are currently in polar orbit: the operational land imager (OLI) on-board Landsat 8, the multispectral instrument (MSI) on-board the Sentinel-2 satellites, and the moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) on-board Terra and Aqua. We consider several retrieval algorithms that fall into three classes: thresholding of the normalized difference snow index (NDSI), regression on the NDSI, and spectral unmixing. We conduct the evaluation at a high-Arctic site in Svalbard, Norway, by comparing satellite retrieved fSCA to coincident high-resolution snow-cover maps obtained from a terrestrial automatic camera system. For the lower resolution MODIS retrievals, the regression-based retrievals outperformed the unmixing-based retrievals for all metrics but the bias. For the higher resolution sensors (OLI and MSI), retrievals based on NDSI thresholding overestimated the fSCA due to the mixed pixel problem whereas spectral unmixing retrievals provided the most reliable estimates across the board. We therefore encourage the operationalization of spectral unmixing retrievals of fSCA from both OLI and MSI.
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