Better measurement for snowpack?
-------------- MARGOT WHOLEY/Special to the Bee ----------->>
Ryan Dewitt, an undergrauduate research assistant, left, and Bob Rice of UC Merced work with the new equipment as they take snowpack readings in Yosemite.
Scientists say they've found a way to make a more accurate runoff forecast.
Sunday, Apr. 18, 2010
By Mark Grossi / The Fresno Bee
Farmers and water officials throughout California wait anxiously each year for forecasts about snowmelt roaring down the Sierra's granite canyons - precious water for the long summer.
But the forecasts are only estimates, based on averages of past seasons, snow-sensor readings and monthly measurements from key mountain meadows above big rivers. The forecast sometimes is wrong, leaving farmers with too much or too little water later in the growing season.
One big reason: Nobody measures snow around jagged ridges, plunging ravines and deep forests in the 400-mile-long Sierra. That's a huge swath of the high country where the size of the snowpack is unknown. As the climate warms and snowfall dwindles this century, officials will need to measure more of the Sierra to improve runoff forecasts for farmers and the growing population, say scientists at the University of California at Merced.
The researchers think they've found a way to do it by expanding monitoring around the existing remote sensors, called snow pillows, which are mostly in flat meadows. Scientists propose to surround the pillows with instruments to daily check snow levels all over the landscape.
Some day, there could be thousands of these instruments in the Sierra.
"We're hoping to design a new system of doing things up there," said engineering professor Roger Bales. As head of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced, Bales has worked on this idea for five years at Gin Flat in Yosemite National Park.
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