Like many semi-arid regions, California relies on seasonal snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada mountain range to provide freshwater allocations for multiple stakeholders throughout the year. The magnitude and timing of runoff from these regions is being altered by consecutive years of drought, affecting downstream ecosystems, hydropower operations, and deliveries to agriculture and urban water users. Understanding the long-term effect of drought on the montane water balance requires temporally continuous, in-situ measurements of key hydrologic variables across large spatial domains. We discuss a seven-year dataset from the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory, which includes co-located measurements of snowpack, soil moisture, and soil temperature in the Kings River watershed. We investigate how these key hydrologic variables are affected as the region transitions from winters that have nearly continuous snow cover (2008-2011) to winters with extended snow-on, snow-off periods (2012-2014). For water year 2014, we observe a 93% decline in average snowpack, a 35% decline in average soil moisture, and a 25% increase in average soil temperature compared to a wet-year index of each variable. We discuss the effect of physiographic features, including slope, aspect, elevation, and canopy coverage on the changes observed in each variable. Finally, we use sparse inverse covariance estimation to investigate the changing conditional relationships throughout the observatory in wet and dry years.
Oroza, C., Zheng, Z., Zhang, Z., Glaser, S., Bales, R., Conklin, M. (2015): In-situ monitoring of California’s drought: Impacts on key hydrologic variables in the Southern Sierra Nevada. EP53A Earth and Planetary Surface Processes: General Contribution Posters, presented at 2015 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 14-18 Dec. .