Spatial Estimation of Snow Water Equivalent for Glaciers and Seasonal Snow in Iceland Using Remote Sensing Snow Cover and Albedo

Andri Gunnarsson*, Sigurdur M. Gardarsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Efficient water resource management in glacier- and snow-dominated basins requires accurate estimates of the snow water equivalent (SWE) in late winter and spring and melt onset timing and intensity. To understand the high spatio-temporal variability of snow and glacier ablation, a spatially distributed energy balance model combining satellite-based retrievals of albedo and snow cover was applied. Incoming short-wave energy, contributing to daily estimates of melt energy, was constrained by remotely sensed surface albedo for snow-covered surfaces. Fractional snow cover was used for non-glaciated areas, as it provides estimates of snow cover for each pixel to better constrain snow melt. Thus, available daily estimates of melt energy in a given area were the product of the possible melt energy and the fractional snow cover of the area or pixel for non-glaciated areas. This provided daily estimates of melt water to determine seasonal snow and glacier ablation in Iceland for the period 2000–2019. Observations from snow pits on land and glacier summer mass balance were used for evaluation, and observations from land and glacier-based automatic weather stations were used to evaluate model inputs for the energy balance model. The results show that the interannual SWE variability was generally high both for seasonal snow and glaciers. For seasonal snow, the largest SWE (>1000 mm) was found in mountainous and alpine areas close to the coast, notably in the East- and Westfjords, Tröllaskaga, and in the vicinity of glacier margins. Lower SWE values were observed in the central highlands, flatter inland areas, and at lower elevations. For glaciers, more SWE (glacier ablation) was associated with lower glacier elevations while less melt was observed at higher elevations. For the impurity-rich bare-ice areas that are exposed annually, observed SWE was more than 3000 mm.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.

Other keywords

  • albedo
  • glacier melt
  • seasonal snow
  • snow cover


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