California drought exposes Sierra’s weaknesses

Peter Hartsough (UC Davis researcher) samples snow at the Providence Site for isotopic analysis, February 2014. Photo: Matt Meadows (SSCZO, UC Merced).

08 Feb 2014
News Source: Fresno Bee

In California, below-average precipitation for the third year in a row has lead to a worrisome situation in the Sierras.

Image: Peter Hartsough (UC Davis researcher) samples snow at the Providence Site for isotopic analysis, February 2014. Photo: Matt Meadows (SSCZO, UC Merced). [Click image to enlarge]

High-country blizzards usually bury southern Sierra lake basins in late January, leaving lodgepole pine and red fir trees in snow drifts 15 feet deep.

But snow surveyors making their usual visit this year to Kings Canyon National Park found something most had never seen at 10,300 feet in January. Bare ground.

There are few snow measurements done up this high in the Sierra — a failing that this record-setting drought is exposing. So far, the biggest part of this season's snowpack is up high, which means it is out of reach for conventional snow measurement.

Worse yet, the empty basin at Kings Canyon is more evidence that the drought is stomping all over a wounded mountain range, parched for water after three years of drought.

The Sierra has thousands of square miles of overgrown forests, a potentially catastrophic problem set in motion decades ago by an ill-informed government policy of snuffing all fires.

The unnaturally thick forests are soaking in snow moisture from any new storms now, depriving reservoirs of runoff. Even with some good storms, the stage is set to fill the sky with wildfire smoke this summer.

Read more at the Fresno Bee.


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RESEARCH | EDUCATION/OUTREACH


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Estelle Eumont - Research intern, Univ. of California, Davis


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Climatology / Meteorology

Sierra

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