Thanks to a three-year NASA Fellowship, graduate student William Currier is preparing for take-off. This fall, Currier will launch new research intended to improve water forecasting by more accurately predicting the amount of water stored as snow in forested areas.
Currently a master’s degree student, Currier will embark on his Ph.D. this fall, at which time he will begin working on the research he proposed for the fellowship, titled “improving snow water equivalent modeling in forests using remote sensing at multiple spatial scales.”
Forested areas cover up to 40 percent of the snow zone in North America. Being able to more accurately determine how much water is stored in the snowpack has many applications, from evaluating climate models to forecasting water supply and hydroelectric power.
Satellite-based methods alone can suffer from errors of 50 percent or greater, largely due to the emitted microwave signal being masked by the forest canopy and difficulty in determining the snow layer densities. Also complicating the research is the dynamic nature of forests, which are constantly changing due to a number of factors.
“Forests are altered through changes in climate, logging, thinning, tree growth, fires and insect infestation, all of which modify the exchange of energy and mass, which must be represented in hydrologic models,” Currier said.
Currier plans to use hydrologic modeling and remote sensing at different spatial and temporal scales to better determine the amount of water stored as snow in forests. To do so, he will utilize observations from NASA’s Landsat and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer satellites as well as NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory.
The new research builds on a project that Currier was involved with the past three summers, called OLYMPEX, also funded by NASA. His role entailed monitoring the seasonal snowpack and determining the amount of frozen precipitation throughout the winter in the Olympic Mountains. To gather data on snow accumulation, 18 snow depth monitoring stations were established in remote areas of the park, up to 25 miles from the trailhead, with time-lapse cameras and snow depth stakes. The data gathered from the project, specifically the time-lapse photography, will be applied to the fellowship research project, to determine how much snow is stored in the forest canopy and how long it takes to melt.