The Sierra Nevada Network parks contain the headwaters of seven major rivers. Most of the parks' land area is mid- to high-elevation, where snow is the major form of precipitation. As the winter snowpack melts, it supplies water to park lands through dry summer and early fall seasons. Sierra Nevada snowmelt water flows down rivers and streams to serve as the primary source of water for domestic, commercial, and agricultural use throughout California.
Climate change will have profound effects on the pattern of streamflow in the Sierra Nevada - the timing of peak runoff and the quantity of water through the dry seasons. Warming temperatures raise the elevation of the rain-snow transition zone. As this moves upward in the mountains, more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Changes in precipitation type and timing result in a reduced snowpack, earlier snowmelt runoff, and longer and drier summers with less water available during the months it is most needed.
In this project, we monitor hydrology, or the distribution and movement of water and its interactions with the surrounding environment. This monitoring will improve our understanding of the effects of climate change on Sierra river hydrology, contribute to the understanding of relationships between fire and hydrology and guide fire management decisions, and inform managers so they may plan for short-and long-term changes in surface water availability and the effects that may have on wetlands, forests, wildlife, and other park resources.