Postcard from the field: Snowy Mountains

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have been in the field this week at the peak of the alpine season in the Snowy Mountains to better understand how the snowpack energy balance causes the melting processes that result in runoff into the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This supports the generation of around one third of eastern Australian’s renewable energy production and underwrites around $3billion of irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin. UWA researchers Dr Nik Callow and PhD candidate Shane Bilish have been working with academics from The University of Queensland and with Snowy Hydro Limited as part of this collaborative research project this is measuring the effect that various environmental factors and processes have on the development and ablation of the snowpack in the Snowy Mountains. This field study will take place during 2015 and 2016 snow seasons in the upper Pipers Creek catchment, adjacent to Perisher Valley in New South Wales and is a key area generating snowmelt runoff into the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

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PhD student Shane Bilish and Professor Hamish McGowan (UQ) checking field energy balance masts measuring snowpack dynamics.

 

Although there has been extensive research into the basic physics of snowmelt, there is a very limited understanding of how various factors interact to produce the snowpack behaviour observed in the Australian Alps. Compared to other locations around the world, the Australian snowpack is characterised by warm temperatures, high snow densities and very high variability within and between seasons. The Pipers Creek catchment is representative of a key part of the snow-covered landscape in the Snowy Mountains in terms of its elevation and vegetation. Researchers have been working this week to take accurate measurements of the stored water in the snow and also measure the energy balance that converts the “snow water” into either runoff or is lost through evaporation. This work will have significant impact in understanding the conversion of the annual snowpack to runoff and the impact of climate change on the Australia alpine area.

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Dr Nik Callow (UWA) taking snow water samples using a Mt Rose sampler to measure the snow depth and the volume of water stored in the snowpack.

Dr Nik Callow is a lecturer and researcher at the School of Earth and Environment.

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