Sierra Nevada aerial snow surveys set to begin |

Sierra Nevada aerial snow surveys set to begin

Provided to the Tribune by Jeff Pang. A 2008 aerial photo shows the Sierra Nevada snowpack near Mono Lake.

In order to get an accurate measurement of the snow, scientists are heading to the sky.

Aerial measurements of the Sierra Nevada snowpack are expected to begin within weeks as part of pilot program to provide more accurate estimates of California’s water supply.

The Airborne Snow Observatory program will include researchers flying over the mountain range taking spectrometer readings to measure the snowpack’s albedo — or reflectivity — and using remote sensing technology known as Lidar to gauge the snowpack’s depth.

Sun rays hitting the snow have a much greater influence on snowmelt than air temperature. Measuring the reflectivity of the snowpack will give researchers a more accurate idea of the timing of its melt, said Tom Painter, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the principal investigator with the Airborne Snow Observatory.

“To be able to actually forecast the timing of snowmelt you need to be able to determine the albedo and how that is progressing,” Painter said during a Friday interview.

Existing measurement techniques — on-the-ground surveys and remote sensing stations — only provide part of the picture, Painter added.

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