Skip to main content
ARS Home » Office of International Research Programs » Scientists » Scientists Speak - World Water Day - Snow Depths Forcast Drought, Flood, and Map Terrain - Marks

Scientists Speak - World Water Day - Snow Depths Forcast Drought, Flood, and Map Terrain - Marks
headline bar

Danny Marks (front, third from left) and his research team on top of Mammoth Mountain, 2017


ARS Celebrates World Water Day: LiDAR Modelling - Snow Depths Forcast Droughts, Floods, and Map Terrain

Danny Marks, ARS Hydrologist, Water Management Research Unit (Boise, ID)

Dr. Danny Marks is a hydrologist at the ARS Water Management Research Unit in Boise, Idaho. His work involves the use of the LiDAR modelling system in order to gauge snow depth fields in areas such as the southern Sierra Nevada region. Data is collected on a near-weekly basis using planes to collect geospatial data including snow depth and distribution. This information can then be used not only for mapping out terrain structure, but also for applications like forecasting droughts and floods.

What is the objective of your project?

“World-wide, snow cover is undergoing change as climate warms. Many regions of the world rely on the seasonal snow cover to supply water for ecosystems, domestic and agricultural use, and power generation during both flood and drought conditions. We are working with NASA, the US Bureau of Reclamation, the National Resources Conservation Service, state water management agencies from California, Oregon, Idaho and Colorado, along with collaborators from Canada and Europe to develop the next generation of operational water supply forecasting tools for snow dominated mountain regions.”

Can you tell us about your research project and the international collaboration involved?

“We have been involved in joint field experiments with Canadian and European snow scientists across North America, in the Alps in Europe, and in northern Scandinavia and Asia. We have hosted PhD students and post-doctoral scientists from both Europe and Canada at the ARS lab in Boise.”

How has your work with international partners benefitted your project? What skills/expertise/other contributions have they brought to this research?

“Working with partners from Canada and Europe, we improved our understanding of how snow processes vary across different environments, from cold, high latitude snow (Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia), high elevation alpine snow (Western US, Europe, Canada), and snow across arid lands (Great Basin (US), Asia). Our snow modeling system has been integrated into the Canadian water management program, the Cold Regions Hydrologic Model (CRHM). Our work with the NASA Airborne Snow Observatory revolving around repeat LIDAR overflights during the snow season has been emulated in both Canada and Europe.”

What are some of the critical research areas that still need to be addressed?

“The interaction between forest canopy and snow, and the integration of below-ground hydrology, and streamflow routing into our snow modeling system. We also need to develop long-term (20 – 30 year) modeling datasets to facilitate calibration of the below-ground component of the modeling system and speed the transition of our modeling tools from research to operational use.”

Since we’re commemorating World Water Day, our audience will be thinking about the importance of water conservation and the theme of “nature for water” – using natural solutions to overcome water challenges in the 21st century. What is one thing you would like everyone to remember about this topic?

“Managing water delivery and supply from melting mountain snow for ecosystems, agriculture and power generation during the transition from snow to rain in mountain regions is critical to sustaining water and food security.”