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Potential of a low-cost sensor network to understand the spatial and temporal dynamics of a mountain snow cover

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Abstract

The spatial and temporal dynamics of seasonal snow covers play a critical role for many hydrological, ecological, and climatic processes. This paper presents a new, innovative approach to continuously monitor these dynamics using numerous low-cost, standalone snow monitoring stations (SnoMoS). These stations provide snow and related meteorological data with a high temporal and spatial resolution. Data collected by SnoMoS include: snow depth, surface temperature, air temperature and humidity, total precipitation, global radiation, wind speed, and barometric pressure. A total of 99 sensors were placed over the winters 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 at multiple locations within three 40–180 km2 basins in the Black Forest region of Southern Germany. The locations were chosen to cover a wide range of slopes, elevations, and expositions in a stratified sampling design. Furthermore, “paired stations” located in close proximity to each other, one in the open and one underneath various forest canopies, were set up to investigate the influence of vegetation on snow dynamics. The results showed that considerable differences in snow depth and, therefore, snow water equivalent (SWE) are present within the study area despite its moderate temperatures and medium elevation range (400–1500 m). The relative impact of topographical factors like elevation, aspect, and of different types of forest vegetation were quantified continuously and were found to change considerably over the winter period. The recorded differences in SWE and snow cover duration were large enough that they should be considered in hydrologic and climate models.

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