Detailed data on autumn, winter and spring snow-cover conditions from remote areas are often difficult or very expensive to obtain. Therefore, an inexpensive method of digital photography was tested in high-Arctic Greenland. Automatic digital photography has provided daily data on snow distribution and snow depth for > 1 year from the Zackenberg area (74°30’ N) in northeast Greenland. A standard digital hand-held camera (Kodak Digital Science DC50) was equipped to become automatic; it is supplied with an “automatic finger” and an external power supply and built into a protecting box with additional solar panels on top, in order to secure continuous operation throughout the year. The daily photograph covers a 100 m transect through a seasonal snowpatch, and thus on an annual basis also yields information on snow-cover duration in the different vegetation zones of the snowpatch. The camera was installed in mid-August 1998. Photographs from the period mid-August 1998 to early September 1999 were collected and analyzed. All photos are taken at astronomic noon in order to use the daylight as long as possible into the winter season before the 24 h winter darkness begins in mid-November.
The digital photographs yielded the following information for the year 1998/99: The first winter snowfall occurred on 18 October; small-scale snow redistribution by snow-drifting started when the winter snow cover was about 5 cm thick. The continuous winter snow cover lasted for a minimum of 170 days in the most snow-deprived areas downwind of the snowpatch, whereas snow in the centre of the snowpatch stayed on the ground for > 325 days, turning the snowpatch perennial in summer 1999.
Meteorological data obtained close to the photographed snowpatch site, in combination with the snow-cover depth and distribution data derived from the photographs, show that at wind speeds (at 2 m height) of up to around 6 m s−1, only small-scale snow-drifting took place, when the snow cover was thin. Intense snowdrifting, however, took place at wind speeds of 8–13 m s−1, particularly when enough snow was available in the upwind area. The automatic continuous photography technique demonstrated here could be particularly useful in remote areas at high risk of avalanches during winter. It is an alternative to traditional snow monitoring achieved mainly by sonic sensors, snow pillows or manual measurements of snow depths Likewise, it can provide better areal information than most standard methods, which give only point measurements.