Determining snow depth and water content is important, especially in places like the increasingly-drought-stricken Western U.S., but it’s not easy. Scrambling around mountains with measuring sticks and snow-melting equipment isn’t very efficient, so systems have been developed using airplanes and satellites.
Folks at UNH including state climatologist Dr. Elizabeth Burakowski have tested lidar-carrying* drones on the Thompson Farm in Durham on shallow snow (just 6 cm in the woods) and report their findings in a publication from the European Geosciences Union (read it here).
The paper says that operating “high-lift UAVs” capable of carrying lidar systems is more complicated and problem-prone than flying a small recreational drone, and maintaining a properly aligned flight plan is not always easy – especially when you’re trying to peer amid trees to get snow depth in the woods.
But it’s a lot cheaper and pretty accurate (within 1 cm in open fields).
*I didn’t realize the acronym “lidar” has entered the all-lower-case area of English spelling, like “radar”. Makes sense.