Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Earth and Environmental Sciences

First Adviser

Ramage, Joan M.

Other advisers/committee members

Pazzaglia, Frank J.; Holland, Breena; Hargreaves, Bruce; Hall, Dorothy K.


Snow accumulation and melt are dynamic features of the cryosphere indicative of a changing climate. Spring melt and refreeze timing are of particular importance due to the influence on subsequent hydrological and ecological processes, including peak runoff and green-up. To investigate the spatial and temporal variability of melt timing across a sub-arctic region (the Yukon River Basin (YRB), Alaska/Canada) dominated by snow and lacking substantial ground instrumentation, passive microwave remote sensing was utilized to provide daily brightness temperatures (Tb) regardless of clouds and darkness. Algorithms to derive the timing of melt onset and the end of melt-refreeze, a critical transition period where the snowpack melts during the day and refreezes at night, were based on thresholds for Tb and diurnal amplitude variations (day and night difference). Tb data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (1988 to 2011) was used for analyzing YRB terrestrial snowmelt timing and for characterizing melt regime patterns for icefields in Alaska and Patagonia. Tb data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (2003 to 2010) was used for determining the occurrence of early melt events (before melt onset) associated with fog or rain on snow, for investigating the correlation between melt timing and forest fires, and for driving a flux-based snowmelt runoff model. From the SSM/I analysis: the melt-refreeze period lengthened for the majority of the YRB with later end of melt-refreeze and earlier melt onset; and positive Tb anomalies were found in recent years from glacier melt dynamics. From the AMSR-E analysis: early melt events throughout the YRB were most often associated with warm air intrusions and reflect a consistent spatial distribution; years and areas of earlier melt onset and refreeze had more forest fire occurrences suggesting melt timing's effects extend to later seasons; and satellite derived melt timing served as an effective input for model simulation of discharge in remote, ungauged snow-dominated basins. The melt detection methodology and results present a new perspective on the changing cryosphere, provide an understanding of melt's influence on other earth system processes, and develop a baseline from which to assess and evaluate future change. The temporal and spatial variability conveyed through the regional context of this research may be useful to communities in climate change adaptation planning.