B.S. Earth Science: Snow Science, Montana State University, 2010
M.S. in Earth Sciences
Title of Research Project:
The Effect of Physiographic Parameters on the Spatial Distribution of Snow Water Equivalent in Mountainous Terrain: A Case Study of the West Fork of the Gallatin River Basin, Montana.
Snow Hydrology, Snow and Climate, Water Supply Forecasting, Spatial Variability of Snow and Snow Water Equivalent, GIS.
Research Project Summary
There are two primary objectives of my project, both relating to the idea of improving the understanding of how snow water equivalent (SWE) is distributed throughout mountainous terrain and how that knowledge can be used to have a positive influence on the lives of those living in the snow dependent Western United States. The first objective is to quantify the effect of various physiographic parameters including elevation, vegetation, slope angle, aspect, and incoming solar radiation on the spatial distribution of SWE in mountainous terrain using the West Fork of the Gallatin River basin in Southwest Montana as a case study. A strong quantified understanding of the relationship between the spatial distribution of SWE depth and the physiographic characteristics of a basin is currently an aspect of mountain systems and particularly snow hydrology that can be much better understood. This portion of the study can potentially lead to valuable insight into being able to more accurately estimate total basin SWE based on the physiography of the basin when only minimal SWE depth data is available.
The second main objective of this study is to quantify how spatially representative the measured SWE at the Lone Mountain SNOTEL site is of the West Fork basin. Using the spatial distribution of SWE data, many important comparisons can then be made to the point data that is collected at the SNOTEL site. It will be determined how well the site represents the mean SWE of the basin and precisely why differences may exist. In addition, the analysis will provide valuable insight as to where in a basin to place future snow telemetry (SNOTEL) sites to gather the most representative, useful, and meaningful data possible.
The first step in this project was the development of a sampling plan that obtained SWE depths in sampling areas with physiographic characteristics proportional to the whole basin, at a variety of spatial scales. This first involved terrain analysis of the basin using geographic information science (GIS) to identify sampling areas that best physiographically represent the West Fork Basin as a whole. Next, data was collected as a “snapshot” of April 1st SWE (a common estimate of maximum SWE accumulation) within these sampling areas by measuring SWE depth in a semi-random fashion at a wide range of spatial scales (10m-400m). The SWE depths were recorded using mapping grade GPS units so they could then be correlated with the various physiographic parameters of that precise location using GIS. The analysis portion of the project will determine which physiographic parameters and combinations thereof have the greatest influence on SWE depth and therefore how and why it is spatially distributed as it is. By gaining a more thorough understanding of how SWE is spatially distributed throughout mountainous terrain more accurate water supply forecasting based on the winter snowpack can be achieved. This can provide important insight for activities such as agricultural planning, flood forecasting, and reservoir management for municipal water supply and hydroelectric power. All of these activities, among many others which are dependent on winter snowpack, are critical to maintaining a sustainable lifestyle in much of the Western United States and will only continue to be more so in the future.
Me with the research vehicle and lab snowmobiles
Current Stage of the Study
All field data for this study was collected over the course of several days around April 1st 2012. The data collection campaign consisted of collecting over 1,000 SWE depth measurements taken in a semi-random fashion within the proportional sampling areas with the help of 10 field assistants, the Yellowstone Club Ski Patrol, and the 2012 Montana State University Snow Dynamics and Accumulation class. Currently the data is being analyzed and the information on this website will be updated periodically as progress continues.
2012 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
The Effect of Physiographic Parameters on the Spatial Distribution of Snow Water Equivalent in Mountainous Terrain(upcoming)
Being presented December 2012
2012 Western Snow Conference, Anchorage, AK
Methods For Quantifying the Effect of Terrain Parameters on the Spatial Distribution of Snow Water Equivalent in Mountainous Terrain
2010 Intermountain GIS Conference, Bozeman, MT
Advances of GIS in Snow Hydrology
Wetlaufer, K., Hendrikx, J., Marshall, L., Challender, S., 2012. Methods for Quantifying the Effect of Physiographic Parameters on the Spatial Distribution of Snow Water Equivalent in Mountainous Terrain. Proceedings of the 2012 Western Snow Conference, Anchorage, AK. [In Press]
Scholarships and Fellowships
Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership (Spring 2012-present)
Montana Water Center Student Research Fellowship (2012)
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Department of Higher Education Scholarship (2005-present)
College of Letters and Science Student Presentation Travel Grant (2012)
Institute on Ecosystems Graduate Student Research Grant (2011)
American Geophysical Union
American Water Resources Association
American Association of Geographers
Montana Watershed Coordination Council
Relevant Training and Professional Involvement
American Geophysical Union 2012 Fall Meeting. December 2012 (upcoming)
Montana Section American Water Resources Association Conference. October 2012 (upcoming)
National Science Foundation Workshop “Science: Becoming the Messenger”, Missoula, MT. May 2012.
Western Snow Conference, Anchorage, AK. May 2012
Intermountain GIS Conference, Bozeman, MT. April 2010