Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2011MT247B

Student Fellowship: Effects of the mountain pine beetle on snow hydrology in Montana

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2011 Start Date: 2011-03-01 End Date: 2012-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $1,500 Total Non-Federal Funds: $638

Principal Investigators: Chris Welch

Abstract: Water resources in the western United States The lack of available water is a central resource management challenge in the western United States. About 75 percent of West's limited water supply, and up to 80 percent of the streamflow, originates as snow, predominantly in the high mountainous regions (http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/factpub/aib536.html). Attempts to quantify the amount of water held in western montane snowpacks originated with James E. Church's snow surveys near Lake Tahoe, CA, and have continued to the present as the ever-increasing human demand for water has made quantifying the amount of water in snow an issue of increasing importance. The future of water resources in the West is tenuous, as climatic changes have resulted in earlier spring melts that have exacerbated summer droughts and fire probabilities (Westerling et al., 2006). Associated with changes to the physical environment of snow due to climate change are changes to the biological environment that may likewise impact snow dynamics; namely via the massive outbreaks of Mountain Pine Beetle, (MPB; Dendroctonus ponderosae) and other herbivores that have devastated several million hectares in the western U.S. and Canada (Kurz et al., 2008; Raffa et al., 2008). If snow accumulation and melt are determined by the physical environment of the snowpack, and forest canopies define in part this physical environment, how might recent insect outbreaks alter water resources? Can management adapt to these changes in the watersheds of the western U.S?