OSU researchers develop new metric to measure water in snow

OSU researchers develop new metric to measure water in snow

Snow is a key resource for every living thing on earth.

In the natural world, snow plays a variety of roles across different ecosystems. For humans, we take it a step further to study how its uses help us and how to perfect them.

Now researchers at Oregon State University have developed a more long term and effective metric for measuring water in a snowpack named Snow Water Storage.

Christina Aragon, a Ph.D. student in water resource engineering at OSU, gave some insight on how we humans use snowpacks as a natural water tank, how we measure it and how snow is connected to the health of the natural world.

“Snowpacks are essentially natural reservoirs; they accumulate precipitation, store it as snow and then gradually release it and when they are releasing water (due to) the snowpack melting, it is at the same time that our precipitation turns off for the year so that allows us to supplement our water supplies, which helps us reduce that gap of no precipitation to the fall when we receive it again,” Aragon said.

Aragon worked alongside David Hill, a civil and construction engineering professor at OSU.

“People have been measuring the Snow Water Equivalent since the early 1900s. Measuring the water in a snowpack is not a new concept,” Aragon said. “For example there is April 1 SWE, but that is telling you the snow water equivalent on that one day.”

Aragon continued on to explain the uses for the metric they developed.

“What this metric does is it tells how the snowpacks function as natural reservoirs, you combine how much (water) on April 1 with how long there is snow on the landscape,” Aragon said.

Not only are snowpacks helpful for humans, they are vital to earth’s ecosystem. Snowpacks help with watering the forests during the summer and are a huge player in helping with world cooling.

It does this due to the fact that snow is one of the most reflective surfaces on earth, so during the winter it reflects solar energy, giving the planet a few months for recovery from the blisteringly hot sun.

Aragon and Hill developed this metric to better help with determining how much water is stored in that snowpack, so that in the future natural reservoirs can be utilized more efficiently.

According to Aragon, if we are looking at this from a human perspective, in the western United States we receive the majority of our precipitation during the winter months and in the summer we receive little to no precipitation.

“For humans … that is when our biggest water demands happen, so snowpacks are what allow us to have water. It greatly expands the capacity of man-made reservoir systems and does not have environmental consequences in the way that our man-made reservoirs do,” Aragon said.

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