Snowpack Chemistry Study

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This week, staff from the US Geological Survey in Denver is visiting Teton County to ski and snowmachine to high elevation sites in order to study airborne pollutants in our snowpack. Since 1993, the USGS has made annual visits to these sites to look at concentrations of trace metals, isotopes of nitrogen and sulfur, and major ions. The five sites in Teton County, Wyoming are part of a project area that spans from Taos, New Mexico, to Glacier National Park. Each year, researchers aim to arrive at each site while the snowpack is still at peak depths. Hitting that sweet spot, and arriving before the snowpack begins to melt in earnest is an annual challenge.

Yesterday, Robb Sgroi, Land Resource Specialist with the Teton Conservation, joined USGS hydrologist, Colin Penn,  to visit the monitoring site on Rendezvous Mountain. To get to the site Robb and Colin dropped 400 feet in elevation off the scoured west slope of Rendezvous Mountain. After probing the site for a representative snow depth, Colin and Robb dug a shaft-like pit, 10 feet deep.

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 They then recorded the snow layer types and depths, as well as snow temperatures every ten centimeters down the 10 foot wall of the pit. They then weighed the amount of water in the snowpack, and measured the snow grains. Finally, actual samples along the pit face were collected for future lab analysis of the snowpack’s chemistry. There is a closely managed protocol for the collection of these samples in order to preserve the samples for later analysis. First, Colin used a clean shovel brought specifically for the purpose of collecting samples. He then placed the sample into an inner bag made of Teflon, which is then labeled, and wrapped in an outer bag. Starting this year, samples are also being collected for the Desert Research Institute, in order to assist in their research on carbon deposition in the snowpack. All of the collected data helps researchers understand the trends in snowpack chemistry, and provides data that informs management decisions regarding air resources.

To learn more, visit the USGS website here.