Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Low-cost temperature sensors: Tennis balls to monitor mountain snowpack

Date:
December 26, 2009
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
Dime-sized temperature sensors, first built for the refrigerated food industry, have been adapted to sense mountain microclimates.

Fictional secret agent Angus MacGyver knew that tough situations demand ingenuity. Jessica Lundquist takes a similar approach to studying snowfall. The University of Washington assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering uses dime-sized temperature sensors, first developed for the refrigerated food industry, and tennis balls. In summer months she attaches the sensors to tennis balls that are weighted with gravel, and uses a dog-ball launcher to propel the devices high into alpine trees where they will record winter temperatures.

This isn't TV spy work -- it's science. Lundquist studies mountain precipitation to learn how changes in snowfall and snowmelt will affect the communities and environments at lower elevations. If the air temperature is above 32 degrees Fahrenheit the precipitation will fall as rain, but if it's below freezing, it will be snow.

"It's fun, like backyard science," Lundquist said of her sensors, which were originally designed to record temperature of frozen foods in transit. She began adapting the devices for environmental science while a postdoctoral researcher in Colorado and has refined them over the years. "It turns out they work phenomenally well."

Last year the American Geophysical Union awarded Lundquist its Cryosphere Young Investigators Award for her fieldwork. In mid-December, at the AGU's fall meeting in San Francisco, she will present her low-cost temperature-sensing technology and some current applications.

Scientific weather stations typically cost about $10,000. Lundquist's system measures and records the temperature every hour for up to 11 months in remote locations for just $30 apiece. Another advantage is that they are easily deployed in rough terrain.

Her temperature sensors are a fun approach to studying a serious problem. One quarter of the Earth's continents have mountainous terrain, Lundquist said, and mountain rivers provide water for 40 percent of the world's population. Those mountain rivers are largely fed by snowmelt. But if winters become warmer due to climate change, the snow line is expected to inch up the mountainside, and snow is expected to melt earlier in the springtime.

"Mountains are the water towers of the world," Lundquist said. "We essentially use the snow as an extra reservoir. And you want that reservoir to hold the snow for as long as possible."

Her sensors are being used to improve computer models in areas where water managers want to know exactly where snow is accumulating and on what date it starts to melt.

"People typically assume that temperature decreases with elevation," Lundquist says. But actual mountain temperatures depend on the vegetation, slope and variable weather. "If you have a management decision, there's a specific place you have to make a decision for."

If more rain falls instead of snow, it will increase the risk of flooding during storms. Lundquist's sensors are currently being used by the California-Nevada River Forecasting Center as part of a project pinpointing at what elevation snow turns to rain, to improve storm flooding forecasts. As part of that project, UW graduate students are placing her sensors in river canyons that are too steep for traditional weather stations.

She is also deploying sensors in Yosemite National Park to see if earlier snowmelt may cause earlier drying of streambeds and affect vegetation growth in the Tuolumne Meadows. Her sensors there provide ground verification of satellite measurements.

The City of Seattle is also using Lundquist's sensors to study how different restoration approaches for trees in the Cedar River watershed, which supplies water to the city, affect snow retention.

"I have a lot of fun deploying my sensors because I love being in the mountains," Lundquist said. "They also sense conditions in these remote environments that we can't know about any other way."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "Low-cost temperature sensors: Tennis balls to monitor mountain snowpack." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 December 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091214101404.htm>.
University of Washington. (2009, December 26). Low-cost temperature sensors: Tennis balls to monitor mountain snowpack. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091214101404.htm
University of Washington. "Low-cost temperature sensors: Tennis balls to monitor mountain snowpack." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091214101404.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) Mount Paektu volcano in North Korea is showing signs of life and there's not much known about it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins