We have designed a basin-scale (>2000 km2) instrument cluster, made up of 20 local-scale (1-km footprint) wireless sensor networks (WSNs), to measure patterns of snow depth and snow water equivalent (SWE) across the main snowmelt producing area within the American River basin. Each of the 20 WSNs has on the order of 25 wireless nodes, with over 10 nodes actively sensing snow depth, and thus snow accumulation and melt. When combined with existing snow density measurements and full-basin satellite snowcover data, these measurements are designed to provide dense ground-truth snow properties for research and real-time SWE for water management. The design of this large-scale network is based on rigorous testing of previous, smaller-scale studies, permitting for the development of methods to significantly, and efficiently scale up network operations. Recent advances in WSN technology have resulted in a modularized strategy that permits rapid future network deployment. To select network and sensor locations, various sensor placement approaches were compared, including random placement, placement of WSNs in locations that have captured the historical basin mean, as well as a placement algorithm leveraging the covariance structure of the SWE distribution. We show that that the optimal network locations do not exhibit a uniform grid, but rather follow strategic patterns based on physiographic terrain parameters. Uncertainty estimates are also provided to assess the confidence in the placement approach. To ensure near-optimal coverage of the full basin, we validated each placement approach with a multi-year record of SWE derived from reconstruction of historical satellite measurements.
Welch, S.C., Kerkez, B., Glaser, S.D., Bales, R.C., Rice, R. (2011): Estimating Snow Water Equivalent over the American River in the Sierra Nevada Basin Using Wireless Sensor Networks. Fall meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2011. Abstract IN32A-07. .