Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Water waiting to be released

Ben measures the weight of a snow core near the Alaska-Yukon Territory border

I traveled up the Taylor Hwy in eastern Alaska the past couple of days to help the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with monthly snow surveys. Snow surveys are performed around Alaska (and the rest of the US) by various agencies during the spring in order to determine the amount of water locked up in the winter snowpack.

In a few months above freezing temperatures will arrive and all of this water in storage will start to melt...and begin its long journey down into the river systems and eventually to the sea. Knowledge of the amount of water stored in the snowpack is important for river and flood forecasting because this will help determine the likelihood and/or severity of spring flooding. In the western US, this type of snowpack information is especially important for water supply planning and determining potential drought conditions.

The Taylor Hwy is closed in the winter so we traveled nearly 200 miles on snowmachines to reach all of the snow survey sites. The Taylor is not really a highway in the general sense...much of it is a narrow dirt road with hairpin turns that connects the Alaska Highway with Eagle, Alaska and Dawson City, Yukon Terr. The road was in great shape because it was being groomed for the International Poker Run - a snowmachine trek between Tok and Dawson City. The road was essentially a 100+ mile ski track...do I see a future ski trip?

So we measured snow depth and snow water equivalent (or the amount of water in the snow if it were melted) at 5 points in a line at what is called a "snow course." All of the snow courses we sampled were established back in the 1960's. This is a relatively long climatological record of the snowpack for Alaska. Snow courses are scattered all around the US. The snow water equivalent can also be measured remotely from aircraft and satellite. I went on a flight last spring that took measurements using airborne gamma radiation (see this post).

The scenery is beautiful along the Taylor Hwy. This is a birds eye view of the Walker Fork of the Fortymile River.

We passed through Chicken on our trip - too bad I wasn't here 3 weeks ago when the temperature bottomed out at -72F (-57.8C) for a few days. It was a balmy +5F (-15C) today.

We spent the night at the "not so" rustic Chicken Field station owned by the BLM.

The "Y" - this is the junction of the Taylor and Top of the World Highways. From here you can either go north to Eagle or east to Dawson City, Yukon.

Frosted willows near the Alaska-Canada border.

The spring sun brightens my view from the snowmachine.

Headed back to the office...

1 comment:

Bevy said...

You have a COOL job! My hubby and I drove to Dawson City for Gold Days - Gold rush days. Been to Old Crow too - but flew there to make contact with Canadian Mounted in case they needed to work together. Furthest north I've ever been have some cool pics from the air. In Dawson City - I about got run over by a drunk on a horse in the Gold tooth Gerty's saloon ... :)
Nice place the BLM housing. Ever read the book Tisha? It's about Chicken and Eagle in the '20's - :)