Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2015CO309B

Temporal Consistency of Spatial Snowpack Properties

Institute: Colorado
Year Established: 2015 Start Date: 2015-03-01 End Date: 2016-02-29
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $2,435

Principal Investigators: Steven Fassnacht

Abstract: Understanding patterns and variability in spatial snow distribution is critical in determining the timing, magnitude and inter-annual consistency of snowmelt runoff and are crucial inputs to snowmelt hydrology models, including those used for water resource management. Typically, only several point measurements are taken within a given basin due to cost limitations, thus there is a necessity for basin- scale modeling of snow processes. There is an apparent gap in understanding the level of confidence associated with spatial snow patterns. The study location is the Southern Rockies, which is a key region for water supply to millions, exhibits persistent snow cover at elevations above 2500 m, and is the headwater of 4 major western watersheds, including the Colorado, Platte, Arkansas, and Rio Grande Rivers. This area includes 90 long-term snow telemetry (SNOTEL) stations operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that collects daily snow water equivalent (SWE) data. Each annual SNOTEL daily SWE time series from one station will be compared to every other station’s time series for the period when both stations are accumulating snow. The slope between each pair of stations, i.e., the comparable accumulation rate, will be computed for each year. The variation in accumulation slopes, likely the standard deviation, will be computed for each station pair, and will be plotted as a function of the distance between station pairs, similar to a variogram. This plot will inform us of the scale of spatial variability for accumulation rates.