Estimating snow mass at continental scales is difficult, but important for understanding land-atmosphere interactions, biogeochemical cycles and the hydrology of the Northern latitudes. Remote sensing provides the only consistent global observations, butwith unknown errors. Wetest the theoretical performance of the Chang algorithm for estimating snow mass from passive microwave measurements using the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) snow microwave emission model. The algorithm's dependence upon assumptions of fixed and uniform snow density and grainsize is determined, and measurements of these properties made at the Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX) Colorado field site in 2002–2003 used to quantify the retrieval errors caused by differences between the algorithm assumptions and measurements. Deviation from the Chang algorithm snow density and grainsize assumptions gives rise to an error of a factor of between two and three in calculating snow mass. The possibility that the algorithm performsmore accurately over large areas than at points is tested by simulating emission from a 25 km diameter area of snow with a distribution of properties derived from the snow pitmeasurements, using the Chang algorithm to calculate mean snow-mass from the simulated emission. The snowmass estimation froma site exhibiting the heterogeneity of the CLPX Colorado site proves onlymarginally different than that from a similarly-simulated homogeneous site. The estimation accuracy predictions are tested using the CLPX field measurements of snow mass, and simultaneous SSM/I and AMSR-E measurements
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