Multitemporal snow cover mapping in mountainous terrain for Landsat climate data record development

Christopher J. Crawford, Steven M. Manson, Marvin E. Bauer, Dorothy K. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


A multitemporal method to map snow cover in mountainous terrain is proposed to guide Landsat climate data record (CDR) development. The Landsat image archive including MSS, TM, and ETM. + imagery was used to construct a prototype Landsat snow cover CDR for the interior northwestern United States. Landsat snow cover CDRs are designed to capture snow-covered area (SCA) variability at discrete bi-monthly intervals that correspond to ground-based snow telemetry (SNOTEL) snow-water-equivalent (SWE) measurements. The June 1 bi-monthly interval was selected for initial CDR development, and was based on peak snowmelt timing for this mountainous region. Fifty-four Landsat images from 1975 to 2011 were pre-processed that included image registration, top-of-the-atmosphere (TOA) reflectance conversion, cloud and shadow masking, and topographic normalization. Snow covered pixels were retrieved using the normalized difference snow index (NDSI) and unsupervised classification, and pixels having greater (less) than 50% snow cover were classified presence (absence). A normalized SCA equation was derived to independently estimate SCA given missing image coverage and cloud-shadow contamination. Relative frequency maps of missing pixels were assembled to assess whether systematic biases were embedded within this Landsat CDR. Our results suggest that it is possible to confidently estimate historical bi-monthly SCA from partially cloudy Landsat images. This multitemporal method is intended to guide Landsat CDR development for freshwater-scarce regions of the western US to monitor climate-driven changes in mountain snowpack extent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-233
Number of pages10
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Climate data record
  • Landsat
  • Mountains
  • Multitemporal
  • Snow cover


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