2023 Undergraduate Research Showcase


Snow Science

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Ellyn Enderlin


Understanding spatial variations in snow accumulation in mountain regions is crucial for estimating the volume of melt water in seasonal snow, often called snow-water equivalent (SWE). SWE depends on snow depth and density, which can vary with several terrain characteristics, such as elevation, slope, aspect, and vegetation cover. Communities rely on SWE estimates to predict the amount of water available during the summer months but it is difficult to estimate SWE without in situ observations because the importance of terrain characteristics can vary between regions. In this study, our team collected data near Lower Deer Point and Stack Rock, ID, using snow depth probes, satellite imagery, and weather station observations to uncover snow accumulation patterns. Snow depth observations were collected on January 15, February 17, and March 17, 2023. I hypothesized that the greatest snow depths would occur on steep slopes, which may act as a wind dampener. Flat lying or shallow slopes would be less protected and be vulnerable to scour by winds. Additionally, I hypothesized that snow depths would be greater on north-facing slopes than south- facing slopes. North-facing slopes have more shading from surrounding terrain, which will lead to decreased melting relative to south-facing slopes.

The prevailing wind directions were determined to be predominantly northwest and southeast. Analysis of snow depth data from January 15 and March 17, 2023, revealed the greatest snow depths on aspects north northeast slopes (aspects of ~225 degrees). This finding suggests shading is an important control on snow depth but that there is no apparent wind redistribution across the surveyed sites. On February 17 and March 17, 2023, there was a large variability in snow depth with elevation. Since the data was not sampled at the exact same points, this made the comparison of the dates difficult. A peak snow depth was observed on slopes with angles between 12.5 and 17.5 degrees on March 17, 2023.

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