Climate Change, Sierra Nevadas’ Snowmelt, & the Drought

Lake Sierra Nevada Mnts.

In alpine areas such as the Sierra Nevadas, snow cover is vital to water supply. Mountainous areas like this one provide water for entire watersheds. When snow melts, there can be three different results that occur. The snow can drift off of the surface level of the soil, it can evaporate, or it can replenish groundwater. Groundwater recharge is important because it helps to get underground water levels back up to a healthy level.

Sierra nevada sign

Less snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas has created an effect on humans, wildlife, and the environment. “The lower than historically normal snowfall in recent years is one environmental factor that has contributed to the current drought in California,” says Ryan Webb, a Ph.D. student in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University.

Sierra snow depth

^The map above depicts the amount of Sierra Nevada snow depth in inches^

Webb and a group of researchers recently studied the changes in soil wetting and drying in alpine regions packed with snow. The study became published work. It specifically examined groundwater levels and their ability to recharge in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Due to changing climate conditions that have caused extensive change in groundwater levels, in these regions soils do not freeze during the winter and remain wet beneath the snowpack.

Ultimately, Webb and his group’s study will help understand how climate change impacts groundwater supplies, which is a precious resource in drought-stricken areas of the country.

Source:

Melting Snow and Groundwater Levels in Sierra Nevadas. Science Daily. August 20th, 2015.  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150820190321.htm

Images:

  1. fineartamerica.com
  2. europeinavan.com
  3. sierranevadaphotos.com
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