Collaborative Research: A WATERS testbed to investigate the impacts of changing snow conditions on hydrologic processes in the western United States Grant uri icon



  • 0854522 / 0854553
    McNamara / Goodwin

    The altered spatiotemporal distribution of winter snowpack is perhaps the single greatest ongoing and future climatic impact in the western United States. The planned WATERS network must be designed to address the present and potential hydrological impacts of this disturbance. This proposed WATERS testbed project aims to address the hydrologic impacts of changing snowpack regime in western mountains using the Middle Snake Hydrologic Observatory, formed by partnering the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed (RCEW) with the Dry Creek Experimental Watershed (DCEW) on opposite sides of the Snake River Plain near Boise, Idaho. The premise of this proposal is that understanding the hydrologic impacts of climate change in the semi-arid mountains of the western US requires understanding the relationships between snow distribution, landscape properties, and soil moisture dynamics. Their central question is: How will earlier snowmelt and upward migration of the rain/snow transition zone affect spring soil drydown patterns in complex terrain? They will evaluate this question using a space for time substitution approach. Specifically, they propose that future impacts of climate-induced changes in snowpack spatiotemporal distribution on soil moisture dynamics can be deduced by evaluating current differences across elevation gradients. The key question will be addressed with three specific objectives, with an additional objective to synthesize and integrate the project with community research: 1) determine the physiologic and climatic controls on the spatial and temporal distribution of snow and the rain/snow transition; 2) determine the hillslope-scale linkages between snow and soil moisture dynamics across elevation gradients; 3) develop a coupled snowmelt/soil moisture dynamics model to test theories against observations; and 4) coordinate and synthesize community research in the MSHO.

    They contend that hydrologic observatory networks will be challenged with leveraging funding sources and providing value-added resources to projects led by externally funded scientists. They suggest that observatory networks must be designed to facilitate community science by providing long-term baseline hydrologic information coupled with focused measurements designed for maximum benefit of teams working on integrated research topics, and providing resources to teams of experts that will add value with leveraged funding for specific projects. The RCEW and the DCEW, are ideally suited to demonstrate this community science concept. Both sites have core ongoing hydrometeorological observations along elevation gradients, and both host numerous externally funded projects related the proposed key question. The PIs will address each objective above by capitalizing on core measurements, leveraging existing funded projects, and adding new measurements with this project. By integrating and supplementing studies along elevation gradients, they will demonstrate how hydrologic observatories can be used to facilitate community science efforts to address this critical water resource problem.

    The proposed project is closely based on many concepts outlined in Science, Education, and Design Strategy for the WATer and Environmental Research Systems Network, known as the SEDS document. The proposed experiments and observations on the changing snowpack are designed according to the gradient concept outlined in the SEDS document in a set of clusters and catchments. The changing snowpack has been identified as a key hydrologic problem in nearly all documents published by WATERS, CLEANER, and CUAHSI. The proposed project follows the WATERS Network conceptual design principles by integrating multiple observatories (RCEW and DCEW), using CUAHSI cyberinfrastructure, applying new sensor technology, integrating new modeling strategies with observations, building collaboration between universities and federal agencies, and implementing education and outreach programs. In addition to testing and demonstrating WATERS concepts, this project will contribute to a greater understanding of climate change impacts in the western United States.

date/time interval

  • August 1, 2009 - July 31, 2013

total award amount

  • 214,380