1alpS – Centre for Climate Change Adaptation, Grabenweg 68, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
2Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
3Department of Geography and Geology, University of Salzburg, Hellbrunnerstrasse 34, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
4Commission for Geodesy and Glaciology, Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Alfons-Goppel-Str. 11, 80539 Munich, Germany
5Institute of Environmental Physics, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 229, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany
Abstract. The storage of water within the seasonal snow cover is a substantial source for runoff in high mountain catchments. Information about the spatial distribution of snow accumulation is necessary for calibration and validation of hydro-meteorological models. Generally only a small number of precipitation measurements deliver precipitation input for modeling in remote mountain areas. The spatial interpolation and extrapolation of measurements of precipitation is still difficult. Multi-temporal application of Light Detecting And Ranging (LiDAR) techniques from aircraft, so-called airborne laser scanning (ALS), enables to derive surface elevations changes even in inaccessible terrain. Within one snow accumulation season these surface elevation changes can be interpreted as snow depths as a first assumption for snow hydrological studies. However, dynamical processes in snow, firn and ice are contributing to surface elevation changes on glaciers. To evaluate the magnitude and significance of these processes on alpine glaciers in the present state, ALS derived surface elevation changes were compared to converted snow depths from 35.4 km of ground penetrating radar (GPR) profiles on four glaciers in the high alpine region of Ötztal Alps. LANDSAT data were used to distinguish between firn and ice areas of the glaciers. In firn areas submerging ice flow and densification of firn and snow are contributing to a mean relative deviation of ALS surface elevation changes from actually observed snow depths of −20.0% with a mean standard deviation of 17.1%. Deviations between ALS surface elevation changes and GPR snow depth are small along the profiles on the glacier tongues. At these areas mean absolute deviation of ALS surface elevation changes and GPR snow depth is 0.004 m with a mean standard deviation of 0.27 m. Emergence flow leads to distinct positive deviations only at the very front of the glacier tongues. Snow depths derived from ALS deviate less from actually measured snow depths than expected errors of in-situ measurements of solid precipitation. Hence, ALS derived snow depths are an important data source for both, spatial distribution and total sum of the snow cover volume stored on the investigated glaciers and in the corresponding high mountain catchments at the end of an accumulation season.