Detection Thresholds of Falling Snow From Satellite-Borne Active and Passive...

Jackson, G. S., B. T. Johnson, and S. J. Munchak (2013), Detection Thresholds of Falling Snow From Satellite-Borne Active and Passive Sensors, IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens., 51, 4177-4189, doi:10.1109/TGRS.2012.2227763.

There is an increased interest in detecting and estimating the amount of falling snow reaching the Earth’s surface in order to fully capture the global atmospheric water cycle. An initial step toward global spaceborne falling snow algorithms for current and future missions includes determining the thresholds of detection for various active and passive sensor channel configurations and falling snow events over land surfaces and lakes. In this paper, cloud resolving model simulations of lake effect and synoptic snow events were used to determine the minimum amount of snow (threshold) that could be detected by the following instruments: the W-band radar of CloudSat, Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) Ku- and Ka-bands, and the GPM Microwave Imager. Eleven different nonspherical snowflake shapes were used in the analysis. Notable results include the following: 1) The W-band radar has detection thresholds more than an order of magnitude lower than the future GPM radars; 2) the cloud structure macrophysics influences the thresholds of detection for passive channels (e.g., snow events with larger ice water paths and thicker clouds are easier to detect); 3) the snowflake microphysics (mainly shape and density) plays a large role in the detection threshold for active and passive instruments; 4) with reasonable assumptions, the passive 166-GHz channel has detection threshold values comparable to those of the GPM DPR Ku- and Ka-band radars with ∼ 0.05 g · m−3 detected at the surface, or an ∼ 0.5−1.0-mm · h−1 melted snow rate. This paper provides information on the light snowfall events missed by the sensors and not captured in global estimates.

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Radiation Science Program (RSP)