Identification of snow cover regimes through spatial and temporal clustering of satellite microwave brightness temperatures

C. J.Q. Farmer, T. A. Nelson, M. A. Wulder, C. Derksen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Areas of similar ecology are often delineated based on homogenous topography, temperature, and land cover. Once delineated, these zones become the basis for a wide variety of scientific research and management activities. For instance, in Canada, ecozones are commonly utilized ecological management units delineated using geographic, topographic, and climatic information aided by spring and summer vegetation conditions. Snow cover has an influence on local and regional hydrological conditions and climate, as well as on animal habitats. As such, we posit that inclusion of winter conditions, incorporating spatial- and temporal-variation in snow cover is an additional element for consideration when delineating areas with homogenous conditions. In our analysis we use satellite passive microwave brightness temperatures from 19 years of Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) measurements to produce a daily time-series on snow cover, and demonstrate how these data can be used to delineate areas of similar winter conditions. We use splines and curve fitting to generalize the dense time-series (of over 6900 days) to a set of metrics, and select three for use in cluster-based generalization of snow cover regimes: annual maximum difference between 37 and 19 GHz SSM/I measurements (with differences in magnitudes indicative of snow accumulation), variation of 37-19 GHz brightness temperatures (indicative of snow cover variability), and variation in the rate of brightness temperature change during the snow melt season (indicative of seasonal change). Our results indicate that these metrics produce spatial units that are unique, and not captured by conventional ecological management units, while also producing spatial units that cohere to those generated from summer conditions. Spatial units that are found to have spatial cohesion between summer and winter data sources are located in regions where the amount of snow tends to be low, and snow cover variability minimal. We propose that snow cover regimes may be used to augment typical vegetation-based ecological zonations or to provide insights on hydrology and animal habitat conditions. Inclusion of winter conditions is especially important when areal delineations are used to monitor impacts of climate change, and as a baseline for monitoring changes in snow cover amount, extent, and/or distribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-210
Number of pages12
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Canada
  • Climate change
  • Cluster analysis
  • Snow water equivalence (SWE)
  • Spatial-temporal patterns
  • Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I)
  • Splines
  • Temporal trends

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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