Mapping #snowpack from the skies brings new precision to #water forecasting — KUNM

Click the link to read the article on the KUNM website (Emma Gibson):

As climate change shifts the norms of water management, a company is mapping the West to collect more accurate snow depth data. Airborne Snow Observatories flies planes over watersheds and beams hundreds of thousands of laser pulses each second to the snowpack below using a laser scanner or airborne lidar system. They’re creating elevation maps that aid in calculating snow depth and the water supply forecast across the West…ASO co-founder Jeffrey Deems says by comparing these maps to ones done in the summer, they can calculate the snow’s depth throughout the whole watershed, bringing more precision and scope to water forecasting and management.

“What can you do when you have higher confidence in your snow inventory and therefore your water supply forecast?” Deems said of the possibilities. “Can you start to make more informed decisions earlier in the year? Do you get early warning of floods or droughts within the year that can improve decision making come snowmelt season?”

SNOTEL automated data collection site. Credit: NRCS

Conventional methods used by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service monitor snowpack via SNOTEL stations. A mountain watershed in Colorado could have several of these stations that continuously monitor snowpack weight and estimate the amount of water available when snowpack melts. But this method, Deems says, relies on comparisons to past data and can be less dependable as climate change alters snow accumulation and melt patterns.

“What we’re doing is mapping the snowpack everywhere,” Deems said. “It gives us an accurate snow volume and therefore decouples us from that reliance on the historic record.”

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