Nature Sundown Set in a snowy forest

Photograph by Jon Cooper.

Environmental health researchers have uncovered some surprising facts about snow melt in forests, and now they are calling for citizen scientists to help out. If you love hiking and other outdoor sports, you may be able to help protect our watersheds while doing what you enjoy anyway.

Most people probably think that snow melts more slowly under trees, but that is not always the case. University of Washington scientists have been studying the area around Cedar River Municipal Watershed, 30 miles outside of Seattle. They found that snow tends to melt more quickly under the tree canopy in Mediterranean-type climates where the average winter temperatures are usually 30 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. In such mild weather, forests appear to radiate more heat than the sky does, so snow actually lasts longer in open spaces. Of course, the shade from trees does preserve snow in colder regions like much of Canada and the Northeast and Midwestern United States. These differences are an important issue for forest management because conserving snowpack is critical to reservoir storage systems.

The University of Washington has now joined with other collaborators including Oregon State University, University of Idaho and Utah State University. They’ve begun collecting observations of where snow lasts longer in the forest or out in the open. Plans are underway to expand this to many more locations in the coming year.

That’s where you may be able to get involved. They are asking for people who plan to hike, ski or snowmobile in the mountains this spring and summer. All you need to do is record your observations of when and where snow is present in forests compared to nearby open areas. The university will post a web-based survey or you can send up your geo-tagged photos. If you’re interested, get in touch with Citizen Science: Snow and Trees in the PNW.

Wherever you live, contact us to learn more about how to create actions and raise funds to protect our watersheds. We bring local people and their environment together.

Posted by Mark Contorno

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