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McKenzie Skiles Seminar: Snow darkening as a motivation for advancing monitoring & forecasting capabilities of mountain snow water resources

September 26, 2023 @ 4:30 pm - 5:00 pm MDT

FASB 295 and online.

To attend via Zoom, register at

Abstract: Over a billion people globally depend on snowmelt runoff to meet water demands, predominantly from snow that accumulates annually in mid-latitude mountains. Decades of observations show that this natural resource is in decline, impacting growing populations downstream and stressing vast infrastructural networks designed to store and transport runoff. Long term records from satellites have been valuable for monitoring regional scale snow extent and shortening snow duration, but there is no satellite with the ideal capabilities to monitor snow water resources in mountains. There is demonstrated value in using coarser scale observations to inform land surface and hydrology models that simulate snow cover continuously through time and space. In many snow dominated watersheds, though, operational snowmelt runoff modeling methods still rely on simple index models that forecast runoff at discrete points based on calibrated relationships between air temperature and snowmelt. This approach can not directly incorporate remote sensing observations, and loses efficacy when snow conditions are outside the calibration period. For example, in the headwaters of the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the Western US, forecasting errors have been directly linked to surface darkening and accelerated melt following episodic dust on snow events. Using snow darkening as a case study, this talk will cover efforts to improve monitoring of mountain snow cover and incorporate those observations into process based snowmelt models, as well as translating research to operations to address water challenges in our changing world.

Dr. Skiles is an Assistant Professor in the University of Utah Department of Geography. She received her PhD in geography from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on understanding how much water is held in the mountain snowpack and how aerosol deposits affect when and how fast it will melt. Skiles was a contributing author to the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


September 26, 2023
4:30 pm - 5:00 pm MDT
Event Category:


295 FASB (Sutton Geology Bldg.)
115 S 1460 E
Salt Lake City, UT 84112 United States
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