Flying thousands of feet above the Sierra Nevada in a plane equipped with specialized imaging devices, Elizabeth Carey has been scanning the mountains with lasers to precisely map the snow. As the lidar records record snowpack, Elizabeth is collecting valuable information to hopefully reduce the impact of flooding.
From an article in Phys.org by Ian James.
The snow blanketing the Sierra lies so deep that the mountain range looks surprisingly swollen and “puffy,” said Carey, who leads the flights.
“The amount of water that we have in the snowpack this year is just mind-blowing,” she said. “It’s just been extraordinary.”
By mapping the snowpack with laser pulses and spectrometers, Carey and her colleagues are able to provide a detailed picture of one of the biggest snow accumulations ever recorded in the state. The flights are also collecting data to estimate when and how fast the snow will melt, helping California officials prepare for the runoff, manage water releases from dams, and assess which areas are most at risk of flooding.
Their measurements, along with estimates by other researchers, show that when the snowpack reached its peak in April, it held approximately 40 million acre-feet of water, nearly as much as the total capacity of all the state’s reservoirs combined. Although some of that snow has started to thaw at lower elevations, much of it remains in the mountains—setting the stage for melting on a vast scale, as well as enormous river flows that could inundate some low-lying communities.
To help prepare for the onslaught of snowmelt, state water managers and emergency officials are relying on the extensive aerial surveys provided by Carey’s employer, Airborne Snow Observatories Inc.
While collecting data from 23,000 feet, the flight teams have had a rare vantage point to witness the dramatic transformation of the mountains below. In some areas, they have measured snowdrifts that are 80 feet deep or more. Cliffs that once jutted from mountainsides have been buried, disappearing into white slopes.
“It looks like an Arctic landscape,” said Thomas Painter, a snow scientist and chief executive officer of Airborne Snow Observatories. “Each time we fly right now, we’re measuring history.”
For the complete article on lidar records record snowpack CLICK HERE.
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