A weekly column on water news, tips, and innovations.
Snow Pillow monitoring station. Photo by NYCDEP
SNOTEL with snow pillows. Image by USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service
The term “snow pillow” evokes a peaceful, muffling moonlit whiteness spreading a lull across the countryside. For New Yorkers, however, it’s a critical piece of hardware.
Much of the billion gallons of water used daily by nine million residents of NYC and surrounding counties arrives as snow. The white caps of the old, rounded Catskill Mountains nestling the Neversink Reservoir are a reserve bank that melts to meet our needs in warmer months. Snow melt can also swell rivers, so anticipating flood risks is very important to towns an farms. With so many lives affected by snow, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, in partnership with City University of New York and National Weather Service, is constantly looking for better ways to measure it.
At the end of the last decade NYCDEP began using “snow pillows,” essentially scales that weigh snow in remote locations and transmit data wirelessly in near real-time. The technology (first developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska) is often integrated into remote sensor stations in rougher terrains out west. The NYCDEP deployed its first snow pillow at the Schoharie Reservoir in 2008, and later near reservoirs in Cannonsville, Pepacton, and Neversink. HarborLAB operates a canoeing and kayaking program at the Neversink for NYC youth groups and public school students to learn about their drinking water sources.
Inner workings of the NYCDEP’s latest generation snow pillow. Photo by NYCDEP.
The NYCDEP still uses aerial surveys and good old fashioned field work to measure snowpack, but the agency plans to more than double its constellation of snow pillows to 35 stations in coming years. Another sensor used is the Gmon, which helps researchers estimate snowpack by measuring the absorption of naturally occurring radiation. Future snow data collection might increasingly rely on satellites.
For more about NYCDEP’s work to measure snowpack, please view this PowerPoint presentation by James H. Porter, PhD, Chief of Water Systems Operations at NYCDEP:
Intrigued by these images? Then head over to our Facebook Fan Page (https://www.facebook.com/HarborLAB) to enjoy the challenge of our Saturday Science Stumper! Each week we present an image that relates to our estuary and watershed ecosystems, plus a hint to help you identify it. The following week, we provide the caption.
HarborLAB is an environmental service learning organization, not a club, so we’ll shamelessly geek out on the wonders of science around us. Join the fun!
Hey teachers, students, and homeschoolers, March 1 is the deadline for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s 2014 Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest! Students (second through twelfth grade) can enter individual and group creations on the following themes:
Water—A Precious Resource: To highlight the importance of the quality of our tap and harbor water.
The New York City Water Supply System: To understand the history of the NYC drinking water system.
The New York City Wastewater Treatment System: To examine how the City treats nearly 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater every day.
Water Stewardship: What Can I do to Help Conserve Water? To bring attention to the value of water and ways to conserve it, and the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan as a cost-effective way to manage stormwater and ensure a clean NYC harbor.