Despite the welcome storm in San Francisco this weekend, my state is experiencing its worst drought in 100 years. Check out NASA’s imagery to learn more.
The drought is so bad, NASA satellites can see it from space. On Jan. 18th, 2014—just one day after California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency—NASA’s Terra satellite snapped a sobering picture of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Where thousands of square miles of white snowpack should have been, there was just bare dirt and rock.
At the Jet Propulsion Lab, a group of researchers led by Tom Painter are preparing to fly a Twin Otter aircraft over the Sierras to investigate the situation. Their “Airborne Snow Observatory” is equipped with a laser radar and a spectrometer to measure the snow’s depth and reflectivity. From these data, it is possible to calculate the water content of the Sierras within 5% and future snowmelt rates with similar precision.
“The Airborne Snow Observatory was designed for times like this when we really need to know the state of the snow pack,” says Painter. “Our next flight will be over the Tuolumne River Basin.” The Tuolumne watershed and its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir are the primary water supply for 2.6 million San Francisco Bay Area residents.
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