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In the journal Geophysical Research Letters , researchers at The Ohio State University place the yearly estimate at about 1, cubic miles of snow accumulation. If spread evenly across the surface of the continent from Canada to Mexico, the snow would measure a little over 7.
If confined to Ohio, it would bury the state under feet of snow. Most of the snow accumulates atop the Canadian Rockies and 10 other mountain ranges.
The research represents an important step toward understanding the true extent of fresh water sources on the continent, explained doctoral student Melissa Wrzesien, lead author on the paper.
The fundamentals are known, Durand explained. Water evaporates, condenses over mountains and falls to earth as rain or snow. From there, snow melts, and water runs into rivers and lakes and ultimately into the ocean.
Satellites make reasonable measurements of snow on the plains where the ground is flat, though uncertainties persist even there.
But mountain terrain is too unpredictable for current satellites. For her doctoral thesis, Wrzesien is combining different regional climate models to make a more precise estimate of annual snow accumulation on 11 North American mountain ranges, including the Canadian Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada and the Appalachian Mountains.
She stitches those results together with snow accumulation data from the plains. So far, the project has consumed 1.
On a typical laptop, the calculations would have taken about 50 years to complete. Whereas scientists previously thought the continent held a little more than cubic miles of snow each year, the Ohio State researchers found the total to be closer to 1, cubic miles.
They actually measure snow-water equivalent, the amount of water that would form if the snow melted-at about a 3-to-1 ratio. For North America, the snow-water equivalent would be around cubic miles of water-enough to flood the entire continent 2.
And while previous estimates placed one-third of North American snow accumulation in the mountains and two-thirds on the plains, the exact opposite turned out to be true: Around 60 percent of North American snow accumulation happens in the mountains, with the Canadian Rockies holding as much snow as the other 10 mountain ranges in the study combined.
We hope that by drawing attention to the importance of the mountains, this work will help spur development in understanding how mountains fit into the large-scale picture. What scientists really need, he said, is a dedicated satellite capable of measuring snow depth in both complex terrain and in the plains.
He and his colleagues are part of a collaboration that is proposing just such a satellite. Materials provided by Ohio State University. Original written by Pam Frost Gorder. Note: Content may be edited for style and length. Science News. Journal Reference : Melissa L.
Wrzesien, Michael T. Durand, Tamlin M. Pavelsky, Sarah B. More than scientists thought: If distributed evenly, 7.
ScienceDaily, 13 March Ohio State University. How much snow accumulates in North America each year? Retrieved June 13, from www. Grid size for previous studies was about 40 miles on a side. The project has the goal to develop a computer model that can help solving typical snow-related engineering problems.
The new readings complement recent snow surveys in the Arctic and Below are relevant articles that may interest you.
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