Monitoring with sensors

As the climate warms and droughts become more common, California is trying to better monitor its water supplies.

Bales: “Building a better water information system to guide decision-making is a critical way that California can adapt to the warming climate.”

That’s Roger Bales of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California, Merced. He says the winter snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains melts slowly throughout the year. This snowmelt provides California with much-needed water in summer.

So knowing how much snow is in the Sierra helps the state allocate water supplies and manage hydropower dams. But there’s not much real-time data, and forecasting models are based on historical measurements that do not reflect the changing climate.

So California is deploying a network of wireless sensors across the Sierra mountains to track snow and soil moisture.

Bales: “We sample higher and lower elevations. We sample under the tree canopy or in the open. We sample north-facing or south-facing slopes. And all of those are factors that cause differences in snow accumulation and soil moisture.”

Bales says this real-time information will help the state better manage its natural resources as the climate warms.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Image graphic: Created by David McCarthy. Wireless sensor image courtesy of Critical Zone Observatory.

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