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Spatially distributed temperatures at the base of two mountain snowpacks measured with fiber-optic sensors

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Snowpack base temperatures vary during accumulation and diurnally. Their measurement provides insight into physical, biological and chemical processes occurring at the snow/soil interface. Recent advances in Raman-spectra instruments, which use the scattered light in a standard telecommunications fiber-optic cable to infer absolute temperature along the entire length of the fiber, offer a unique opportunity to obtain basal snow temperatures at resolutions of 1 m, 10 s and 0.1°C. Measurements along a 330 m fiber over 24 hours during late-spring snowmelt at Mammoth Mountain, California, USA, showed basal snow temperatures of 0±0.2°C using 10 s averages. Where the fiberoptic cable traversed bare ground, surface temperatures approached 40°C during midday. The durability of the fiber optic was excellent; no major damage or breaks occurred through the winter of burial. Data from the Dry Creek experimental watershed in Idaho across a small stream valley showed little variability of temperature on the northeast-facing, snow-covered slope, but clearly showed melting patterns and the effects of solar heating on southwest-facing slopes. These proof-of-concept experiments show that the technology enables more detailed spatial and temporal coverage than traditional point measurements of temperature.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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