SnowSense - Using satellite navigation, communication and remote sensing for timely access to high-quality and reliable information on snow

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Objectives of the service

SnowSense helps to overcome current hurdles in the quality and quantity of spatially distributed snow information. Economic impact of improved snow information is especially high in Northern regions, since snow largely determines the water resources there. SnowSense will develop new in-situ equipment that will provide and communicate snow data even in remote regions. The integration of the snow data in a hydrological model and spatial observations from EO will offer an end-to-end service to flood forecasts authorities and hydropower companies

Users and their needs

SnowSense is designed to provide a dedicated commercial information service to water authorities and hydropower companies to support their daily operations.

Canada & Scandinavia

Our water resources are to a large extend temporally stored in the snow cover. Snow melt largely determines the runoff in rivers, which is used e.g. for drinking water supply, irrigation and hydro power production. It is also often responsible for flooding. Thus, storage and release of snow water have strong economic impacts. The snow cover is characterized by different physical parameters; the most relevant is the amount of water stored in snow (the snow water equivalent).

Essential for all water management applications, like flood forecast, hydropower and drinking water supply, a detailed and up-to-date information on the water stored in the snow is essential. Especially in remote areas, with fewer infrastructures, this information is largely missing and can only be retrieved by costly measurement systems.  Only from the knowledge of the snow and its amount and its dynamic, forecast of the run-off and the hydropower generation can be calculated.

Service/ system concept

SnowSense aims at a better assessment of snow cover, the amount of water stored in it, and its potential and risk for energy production and flood events. It is designed to provide a dedicated commercial service to water authorities and hydropower companies.

Space Added Value

For SnowSense three space technologies are integrated:

  • Navigation / GNSS signals as innovative new method to retrieve in-situ snow information from distributed locations.
  • Satellite Communication to transmit data from remote locations, also in high latitudes, by the use of polar orbiting communication satellite networks as only adequate solution.
  • Satellite Earth Observation as operational applied method to derive snow cover area and wet snow information from optic and active radar (SAR).

Product Benefits

Within the performed fast track feasibility study, the user requirements had been refined and the concept of a service had been designed. When brought to an operational stage, SnowSense will allow a better assessment of snow cover, the amount of water stored in it, and its potential and risk for energy production and flood events.

Based on this process, numerous benefits had been identified, that will occur from SnowSense as an operational service:

  • Improved in-situ snow observation due to more station locations through low-cost snow systems providing better spatial versatility (e.g. new stations in mountains)
  • Secure information through use of integrated technology system (In-Situ + EO + Model)
  • Improvement of situation awareness (early warning of floods) through better forecasts and extension of forecast time
  • Forecast information for hydropower in order to improve  efficiency of production of renewable energy

Product Features

SnowSense investigated the use of a novel GNSS based in-situ snow measurement sensor system, developed by a team of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, and its integration in a water balance and run-off model system. The expected significantly lower costs of the in-situ sensors, resulting from a simple sensor design and the use of standard hardware components, will allow a wider distribution of sensors and a better geographical distribution of snow measurements. Being designed to run autonomous with low power consumption, the new sensors will be suitable also for regions not connected to the power grid. Sensors will be equipped with satellite communication unit that allows the direct transmission of the snow parameters also from regions without terrestrial communication infrastructure, like some Northern and Arctic Regions, as well as remote continental areas.

Snow property assessment at sensible points in remote areas (Vista) 

To provide the best possible information on the snow in the targeted areas, SnowSense will integrate the in-situ information from the dedicated station network with existing operational remote sensing techniques for snow monitoring and a snow and runoff model system. On the basis of the integrated snow information, user driven services for run-off and hydropower forecast will be provided.

Current Status

It resulted in detailed user requirements, identified market opportunities, initial system architecture, a planned team composition and a strategy for a pilot demonstration. These steps are the initial building blocks for a successful commercial service roll-out.

Within a Pilot Demonstration of SnowSense, the provision of run-off and hydropower information for a selected area in Canada is targeted. Within this demonstration, the information retrieval from the in-situ component, the operational EO snow monitoring and the service integration and the product delivery will be performed. 

Status Date

Updated: 08 July 2014 - Created: 08 April 2014