The National Science Foundation will continue to fund a UC Merced research facility that studies how mountain water flows as the climate changes, according to researchers.
The federal agency awarded UC Merced with $5 million to continue work on studying the water, forests and climate of the Sierra Nevada for another five years, said professor Roger Bales, who also heads the university’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute.
“The understanding and technology from this research will reduce uncertainty in forecasting for hydropower, water supply and water use within forests,” Bales said. “These water forecasts are important for California’s agricultural and urban economies, which must plan based on projections of how much water is available and when.”
Bales and UC Merced professors Martha Conklin and Steve Hart lead the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory near Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.
The observatory is located in the Sierra National Forest and is a partnership of the U.S. Forest Service, several UC campuses and other agencies.
As part of the nationwide network, the observatory investigates questions of how mountain soils and weathered rock develop over time and interact with shorter-term climate and ecosystem changes.
Results from the observatory program, which started in 2007, have led to better understanding of the amount of mountain rain and snow to return to the atmosphere through forest vegetation, according to researchers. The observatory also studies how various soil and bedrock properties control the flux of water.
During the next five years, the UC Merced team and its collaborators will continue to improve predictions of stream flow, water use by forest vegetation and groundwater recharge in the Sierra Nevada, according to researchers. Team members will also work with resource managers and policymakers responsible for California’s water future, Sierra Nevada land stewardship and adaptation to a changing climate.
“Our approach involves detailed measurements as the foundation for new knowledge,” Conklin said. “We are investigating questions that require new data and cannot be solved just by better modeling.”
More and more winter and spring precipitation falls as rain rather than snow, according to researchers, leaving less for storage during increasingly drier summer and fall periods.
Measurement technology developed by the observatory team is being tested in other areas of the Sierra Nevada to provide more accurate forecasts of water supply, researchers said, as well as estimates of the effect of forest thinning and wildfire on the mountain water cycle.