To better understand the extreme drought Utah is in, researchers must better measure mountain snowpack.
Snowpack is the state's largest reservoir and Utah needs every drop of water out of the sky.
Roughly 80% of the water for the Wasatch Front comes from snow, so knowing how much water is in the mountains and when it will melt is important.
“We're going to see it in ways we've never been able to see it before,” said McKenzie Skiles, an assistant geography professor at the University of Utah.
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Skiles is one of the two U of U professors that got a $7 million grant to develop new methods to forecast how much water is in Utah’s mountain snowpack.
Skiles will use drones, aerial and ground sensors and satellite images to develop maps that measure the snow-depth of the entire mountain landscape instead of in just certain points.
Her team will use backcountry skiers, with avalanche probes, to collect snow depth data.
“And that will improve our water forecasts and make the way we use that water more efficient,” Skiles said.
Sun reflection is a great indicator of how fast snow melts, which Skiles and her team will develop an algorithm to track it.
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“Especially here we don't have many reservoirs to store water for later use so snow determines how much water we get almost immediately every year,” Skiles said.
Which is even more important since Utah is still stuck in an extreme drought.
“This is a really serious time for water in the American West and especially in Utah” said Zack Frankel, the executive director of the Utah Rivers Council.
Frankel started the Utah Rivers Council in 1994 and says he supports efforts like Skiles is trying to accomplish adding, “We can expect less water in our future and now is the time to start leaping forward to catch up to other western communities that have been saving water for decades.”
This University of Utah is joining a group of 28 other universities and non-profits, which includes BYU and Utah State University.
Their work will benefit not just Utah, but other western states that suffer from drought conditions.