NASA Measures Snowpack, Water Resources In Colorado

Posted: Feb 19 2017, 7:15am CST | by , Updated: Feb 19 2017, 7:33am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA Measures Snowpack, Water Resources in Colorado
Credit: NASA
 

Researchers have completed the first flights of a NASA-led field campaign called SnowEx. The campaign aims to accurately measure the amount of water held in snow-covered regions

Snow-covered mountains are an important seasonal source of water. Nearly 20 percent of the world population depends on snowpack mainly around large mountainous regions for their water needs. The snow on mountains melt in summers and run gradually into the lowlands during warm seasons when human demand peaks.

Understanding Earth’s water resources is crucial to fulfill water demands in future, but there is always an uncertainty regarding their details. There are significant obstacles to measuring accurately how much water is stored across the planet's snow-covered regions.

SnowEx, a multi-year research campaign led by NASA, seeks to improve measurements of snow depth and volume over different terrain across the U.S.

As a part of this project, researchers have completed first ground based and aerial surveys of the snowpacks over Western Colorado. This year's study is being carried out in Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin.

“This is the most comprehensive campaign we have ever done on snow," said Edward Kim, a remote sensing scientist at NASA Goddard and the SnowEx project scientist. “An army of nearly 100 scientists from universities and agencies across the U.S., Europe and Canada are participating. Our goal is to find and refine the best snow-measuring techniques and how they could work together.”   

The water stored as snowpack makes its way to millions of people across western United States and has been used for drinking, farming and hydropower. This is one of the reasons scientists are interested in a comprehensive view of snow from space. While satellites are not able to measure snow-water accurately over all snowy landscapes, researchers are now combining both advance new remote-sensing techniques and groun-based technology to more precisely measure the amount of water held in that snow.

NASA’s SnowEx campaign consists of five aircrafts that are equipped with a total of 10 different sensors. As airborne scientists collect data from the sky, their counterparts do the same on the ground, taking measurements through ground-based equipments. The ground based measurements are equally important since remote-sensing is less optimal for measuring snow in forests or light snow cover;

“The big challenge to the ground campaign is collecting high-quality field measurements while keeping everyone safe and healthy in these harsh environments.” Kelly Elder, research hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, said.

Data acquired from the 5-year long SnowEx campaign improve our understanding of world water supply and track changes in them. As world warms, researchers have observed decline in snow accumulations in many regions and hese changes will have a profound impact on our future water supplies and on the prediction of floods and droughts.

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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