NASA Conducts First Study To Determine Western U.S. Snowpack
In a recent trend of Earth-bound missions, NASA announced Thursday that a new airborne mission has created the first maps of the entire snowpack of two major mountain watersheds in California and Colorado.
In doing so, the U.S. agency reports, they have been able to provide the most accurate measurements to date of how just how much water they hold.
The data, taken from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory mission, will be used to estimate how much water will flow out of the basins when the snow melts.
Such technology, NASA said, could help improve water management for the 1.5 billion people worldwide currently living off of snowmelt for their water supply.
“The Airborne Snow Observatory is on the cutting edge of snow remote-sensing science,” Jared Entin, a program manager in the Earth Science Division at NASA’s headquarters, said in a press release. “Decision makers like power companies and water managers now are receiving these data, which may have immediate economic benefits.”
According to NASA, regions like the Western United States face significant water resource challenges not only because of growing populations, but faster melt and runoff of snowpacks caused by climate change.
In all, snowmelt represents 75 percent of the freshwater supply for the West.
In particular, the observatory is focusing on two properties considered the most critical to understanding snowmelt runoff and timing. This includes snow depth and snow water equivalent, or the amount of water in the snow on a mountain.
“The Airborne Snow Observatory is providing California water managers the first near-real-time, comprehensive determination of basin-wide snow water equivalent,” said Frank Gehrke, mission co-investigator and chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the California Department of Water Resources. “Integrated into models, these data will enhance the state’s reservoir operations, permitting more efficient flood control, water supply management and hydroelectric power generation.”