Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016CO319B

Watershed monitoring across the snow transition zone: an east slope-west slope comparison

Institute: Colorado
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $4,770 Total Non-Federal Funds: $2,385

Principal Investigators: Stephanie Kampf, John Hammond

Abstract: In mountain regions, both snowpack trend analyses and modeling studies suggest that snowpacks are most sensitive to climate change at their lower elevation boundaries, yet we still lack understanding of where these snow-sensitive elevation ranges are located and how snow changes within them affect hydrologic response. The central hypothesis guiding this research is that loss of a persistent winter snowpack triggers a loss in runoff generation, and the magnitude of this loss is higher in more arid climates, like that of the Colorado Rockies. This proposal is a part of a larger PhD research plan that includes an analysis of snow persistence and runoff generation across the western U.S. using existing remote sensing and streamflow data. The research proposed here focuses on connecting this regional analysis to process level observation research across gradients of snow persistence on the west slope and east slope of the Colorado Rockies. The objectives of this study are to (1) establish hydrologic monitoring catchments in intermittent, transitional, and persistent snow zones on the east slope and west slope in Colorado, and (2) use this monitoring network to improve understanding of how snow accumulation and melt affects soil moisture and runoff generation. The monitoring network will be integrated into longer-term hydrologic monitoring that can help inform streamflow prediction, particularly in transitional elevations that are most sensitive to drought and warming. This monitoring network will link my east-slope based research at Colorado State University with students at Colorado Mesa University, who will conduct west slope monitoring.