EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Validating manual measurements of snow water equivalent against a reference standard

Alexander Radlherr and Michael Winkler
Alexander Radlherr and Michael Winkler
  • Geosphere Austria, Innsbruck, Austria (

The snowpack is a key component in several fields like climatology, hydrology, or natural hazards research and mitigation, not least in mountainous regions. One of the most considerable snowpack features is the snow water equivalent (SWE), representing the mass of water stored in the snowpack and – in another perspective – the weight straining objects the snow is settling on (snow load). In comparison to snow depth, measuring SWE is rather complex and prone to errors. Consecutive observations of SWE do not have a long tradition in many regions.

Despite various recent developments in measuring SWE by means of remote sensing or other noninvasive methods, e.g. with scales, GNSS reflectometry, signal attenuation and time delay techniques, cosmic-ray neutron sensing, etc. the standard measuring technique still are snow tubes or gauging cylinders, often in combination with digging pits. Tubing-technique is commonly used as reference for the validation of named modern methods, although studies addressing its accuracy, precision and repeatability are very rare.

This contribution provides results from comparing different types of SWE measurement tubes with reference standard oberservation. Several field tests were executed at different sites in the Austrian Alps covering a great variety of snow conditions (e.g. dry and wet), snow depths and SWEs. For the reference observation 3x4 m rectangular fields were dug snow-free and the respective snow masses have been weighted stepwise using ca. 50-liter-buckets. Due to the large total mass of snow of typically around two tons per rectangular, relative uncertainties are extremely small and the results highly accurate. Additionally, different snow tubes were compared to each other. The cylinder or tube designs vary a lot: from meters long metal coring tubes of typical inner diameters of ca. 4-7 cm (without the need of pits) or PVC cylinders with typical lengths of 0.5 to 1.5 m and diameters ranging from about 5-20 cm to small aluminum tubes holding a maximum of 0.5 liter of snow.  

Many statistical measures like variance and bias vary quite a lot primarily depending on the equipment used, but also on the different snow conditions. A synopsis on the suitability of the various methods depending on the questioning or objective of the observation is provided.

How to cite: Radlherr, A. and Winkler, M.: Validating manual measurements of snow water equivalent against a reference standard, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-11787,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file