Home Environment University researchers design water quantity tool to help with forest-thinning plans

University researchers design water quantity tool to help with forest-thinning plans

by Nevada State News
The Sierra snowpack in January 2020. Image: Ty O'Neil

RENO – A researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to develop a modeling tool to assess how forest thinning will affect snowpack, and water quantity, in the Lake Tahoe region.

The U.S. Forest Service hopes to use information gathered from the tool to find the best way to thin forests while maximizing the forest’s benefits for water quantity, water quality, wildfire risk and wildlife habitat.

“The snowpack we’ve relied upon is under pressure from years of fire suppression that increased tree density, combined with the effects of climate change and warming temperatures,” said Adrian Harpold, natural resources & environmental science assistant professor with the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources.

The tool predicts how different approaches to thinning the forest impact snowpack accumulation in Lake Tahoe, which controls how much water is available for downstream communities such as Reno. Too many trees means less snow reaches the ground, Harpold explained.

In addition, when many trees are clumped together, they warm up and release heat, which can melt the snow on the ground. However, too few trees means the snowpack is less protected from the sun and wind, which also melt snow.

Results of the study, which initially modeled the west shore of Lake Tahoe, were discussed in a recently published article on the proof-of-concept for using high-resolution modeling to predict the effect of forest thinning for snow, for which Harpold was the lead author. 

For more information on the water-quantity tool, see: “Increasing the efficacy of forest thinning for snow using high-resolution modeling: A proof of concept in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California, USA” in the journal Ecohydrology, and “Using Process Based Snow Modeling and Lidar to Predict the Effects of Forest Thinning on the Northern Sierra Nevada Snowpack” in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.

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