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2001-31 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 21, 2001

Snow's Uneven Impact on Climate to be Studied in the Colorado High Country

David Hosansky
UCAR Communications
P.O. Box 3000
Boulder, CO 80307-3000
Telephone: (303) 497-8611
Fax: (303) 497-8610
E-mail: hosansky@ucar.edu

BOULDER -- When the snow starts to pile up across the Rockies this winter, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Oregon State University will be watching it closely. On a former ranch near Walden, Colorado, NCAR is placing an array of sophisticated instruments to study patchy accumulations of snowfall and their effect on local climate and hydrology.

Led by professor Larry Mahrt, a team from Oregon State is joining NCAR to study the snow cover from December through March at the former Case Ranch, about five miles south of Walden at an elevation of about 8,100 feet. As part of NCAR's Integrated Surface Flux Facility, a 78-foot-tall tower erected at the site will take highly precise measurements of wind, temperature, humidity, and other weather elements every 15 feet up the tower. Similar instruments will be placed on shorter poles surrounding this tower, along with sensors to measure soil temperature, snow depth, and amount of sunshine. The tower and instruments will be removed in the spring.

Tower-based instruments are usually kept in place during weather studies, but the NCAR sensors may be shifted on the towers to better profile the atmosphere as winter unfolds. "One of the things we are excited about is close monitoring of the data with the Oregon State scientists," says Steven Oncley, the NCAR scientist in charge of the instrument facility for this project. "If the data show that we are missing an important measurement, we will add or relocate sensors to fill in the gaps."

Snowfall accumulations are crucial to water resources in Colorado and other places with cold climates. Computer models often do not agree with actual snow measurements, especially when the snowfall is patchy or when the snow melts or evaporates during sunny, subfreezing weather. The Walden site was chosen in part because of the wide variety in snow accumulations that develop between exposed and sheltered areas as sunshine and winter storms alternate. Data from the NCAR instruments will allow Oregon State scientists to use actual snow cover and weather conditions to develop new models of snowmelt. Improving the models should yield better weather forecasts, as well as better projections of the melted water that flows in streams and percolates through the soil during the spring and summer.

Along with NCAR and Oregon State, the Walden study will involve scientists from Colorado State University and the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station. The project is associated with NASA's Cold Land Processes Mission, which is comparing microwave satellite data of ice and snow cover to ground-based measurements and computer models. The overall goal is a better understanding of ice and snow cycles and their impacts.

NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation. NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of 66 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences.

-The End-

Writer: Bob Henson

Note to Editors: To schedule a visit to the Walden site, contact Steven Oncley, NCAR Atmospheric Technology Division: from November 26 to December 15 at 303-817-0910; at 303-497-8757 thereafter. Or contact David Hosansky, UCAR Communications, 303-497-8611 for assistance.

On the Web:
NCAR Fluxes over Snow Surfaces project:
NASA Cold Land Processes Mission:

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The National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Office of Programs are operated by UCAR under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any of UCAR's sponsors. UCAR is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.

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