The Best Of Our Knowledge
The Best Of Our Knowledge
#1655: Snowpack and drought in the West | The Best of Our Knowledge

There’s a spot atop California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains where research on snowpack and drought began more than 70 years ago.

At one point, there were several labs up and running in the area. Now, just one associated with the University of California Berkeley and helmed by Dr. Andrew Schwartz is collecting information on the intertwined topics. And recently, the researcher penned an essay titled “I’m a Scientist in California. Here’s What Worries Me Most About Drought.,” which ran in the New York Times. In the piece, Schwartz deciphers data from the past winter and spring, while laying out various futures for the West.

There are connections to be made between snowpack and the increasingly devastating fire season in California. But also a knotty relationship among flooding, changes in the landscape and inhabitability. 

“Land surfaces, snow melt patterns and the climate have all changed since many of these models were developed, which means they’re missing crucial pieces of today’s water puzzle,” Schwartz wrote in the Times piece, while discussing how assessments and planning today could be falling short.

He advocates for large-scale investment in research, so that population centers in “water-scarce” areas remain inhabitable. But Schwartz also figures that at this point, “[r]ather than investing in body armor, we’ve been hoping that the trigger won’t be pulled.” It’s a perspective he discusses on this episode of The Best of Our Knowledge.

Pertinent links

“I’m a Scientist in California. Here’s What Worries Me Most About Drought.”

Central Sierra Snow Lab homepage

“New era of research at snow lab reveals similarities to an unlikely place”

“California’s Sierra Nevada sees record snowfall. It needs even more”

“Sierra snowpack worsens, falls to lowest level in 7 years”