Snow albedo sensitivity to macroscopic surface roughness using a new ray tracing model

Fanny Larue*, Ghislain Picard, Laurent Arnaud, Inès Ollivier, Clément Delcourt, Maxim Lamare, François Tuzet, Jesus Revuelto, Marie Dumont

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Abstract. Most models simulating snow albedo assume a flat and smooth surface, neglecting surface roughness. However, the presence of macroscopic roughness leads to a systematic decrease in albedo due to two effects: 1) photons are trapped in concavities (multiple reflection effect) and, 2) when the sun is low, the roughness sides facing the sun experience an overall decrease in the local incident angle relative to a smooth surface, promoting higher absorption, whilst the other sides has weak contributions because of the increased incident angle or because they are shadowed (called the effective angle effect here). This paper aims to quantify the impact of surface roughness on albedo and to assess the respective role of these two effects, with 1) observations over varying amounts of surface roughness, and 2) simulations using the new Rough Surface Ray Tracer (RSRT) model, based on a Monte Carlo method for photon transport calculation.

The observations include spectral albedo (400–1050 nm) over manually-created roughness surfaces with multiple geometrical characteristics. Measurements highlight that even a low fraction of surface roughness features (7 % of the surface) causes an albedo decrease of 0.02 at 1000 nm when the solar zenith angle (Өs) is larger than 50°. For higher fractions (13 %, 27 % and 63 %), and when the roughness orientation is perpendicular to the sun, the decrease is of 0.03–0.04 at 700 nm and of 0.06–0.10 at 1000 nm. The impact is 20 % lower when roughness orientation is parallel to the sun. The observations are subsequently compared to RSRT simulations. Accounting for surface roughness improves the model observation agreement by a factor two at 700 nm and 1000 nm (errors of 0.03 and 0.04, respectively), compared to simulations considering a flat smooth surface. The model is used to explore the albedo sensitivity to surface roughness with varying snow properties and illumination conditions. Both multiple reflections and the effective angle effect have more impact with low SSA (2 kg−1). The effective angle effect also increases rapidly with Өs at large Өs. This latter effect is larger when the overall slope of the surface is facing away the sun and with a roughness orientation perpendicular to the sun.

For a typical alpine snowpack in clear sky conditions, a broadband albedo decrease of 0.05 causes an increase of the net short wave radiation of 80 % (from 15 W m−2 to 27 W m−2). This paper highlights the necessity to consider surface roughness in the estimation of the surface energy budget.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2020


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