Researchers study how snow affects the water cycle in northern Minnesota

With northern Minnesota covered in snow for half the year, when and how much falls plays an important role in groundwater, forests, and Lake Superior. University of Minnesota-Duluth scientists are studying the process to better understand how the region’s water cycle works.

A new video from the university profiles a project being conducted by a professor and an undergraduate Environmental Science student.

“If you think about how we’re storing up this water for a period of time and then releasing it back into our streams and groundwater, if we start messing with that component and that storage over time, what’s going to happen to that water that we’re losing?” Asks Dr. Salli Dymond. “Does it come in the fall and we’re able to capture it and put it in the soil? Or does it come in the spring and runs off straight into Lake Superior and we don’t get that in our soil and our groundwater?”

With issues like climate change and population growth affecting water supply and demand, the questions are critical for the future.

Snow hydrology is a major field in the western United States, where mountain snowpack affects drinking water supplies, agriculture, and wildfire risk. But it has not much widely investigated in a climate like northern Minnesota.

“We’re studying how the amount of snow on the ground changes, due to different weather patterns,” student Peter Bouchard says.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, snow and meltwater are some of the biggest forces affecting stormwater management in the state. How fast snow melts and how meltwater behaves is affected by solar radiation, the distribution of snow cover, the amount of freeze-thaw cycling, and more.

Due to climate change, the MPCA believes Minnesota will see changes to its snow hydrology, including snow falling in changed patterns with less accumulation, snowstorms shifting northward and upward in elevation, ice storms and rain-on-snow increasing, the timing and rate of snowmelt changing, and the chance of flooding associated with rainfall during spring increasing.

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