Improving Snow Water Equivalent Maps With Machine Learning of Snow Survey and Lidar Measurements

Patrick D. Broxton, Willem J.D. van Leeuwen, Joel A. Biederman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


In the semiarid interior western USA, where a majority of surface water supply comes from mountain forests, high-resolution aerial lidar-based surveys are commonly used to study snow. These surveys provide rich information about snow depth, but they are usually not accompanied with spatially explicit measurements of snow density, which leads to uncertainty in the estimation of snow water equivalent (SWE). In this study, we use a novel approach to distribute ~300 field measurements of snow density with artificial neural networks. We combine the resulting density maps with aerial lidar snow depth measurements, bias corrected with a very large and precisely geolocated array of field-measured snow depths (~4,000 observations), to create and validate maps of snow depth, snow density, and SWE over two sites along Arizona's Mogollon Rim in February and March 2017. These maps show differences between midwinter and late-winter snow conditions. In particular, compared to that of snow depth, the spatial variability of snow density is smaller for the later snow survey than the earlier snow survey. These gridded data also show that the representativeness of Snow Telemetry and other point measurements is different for the midwinter and late-winter snow surveys. Overall, the lidar artificial neural network SWE estimates can be as much as 30% different than if Snow Telemetry density were used with lidar snow depths to estimate SWE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3739-3757
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Artificial Neural Network
  • LiDAR
  • SWE
  • Snow Density
  • Snow Survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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