A Song of Fire and Snow: Wildfire and Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada

EarthzineDEVELOP 2015 Summer VPS, DEVELOP Virtual Poster Session, Monitoring Forested and Agricultural Landscapes

This is an article from the Summer 2015 VPS. For more VPS articles, click here


The 2000 Manter fire in Tulare County, California. Landsat bands 7, 4, and 3 are used to highlight the burn scar in red. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Water Resources Team

Categories:åÊMonitoring Forested and Agricultural Landscapes

Project Team: Sierra Nevada Water Resources

Team Location: NASA Ames Research Center ‰ÛÒ Mountain View, California


Sean Cunningham

Justin Anzelc

Vishal Arya

Nolan Cate

Clayton Sodergren


Andrew Nguyen (NASA DEVELOP Ames Center Lead)

Dr. Juan Torres Perez (Bay Area Environmental Research Institute)


Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is a crucial component of the California water supply. Climate change effects on forest ecosystems in this region have reduced snowpack, resulting in earlier snowmelt. Wildfire frequency and severity in the Sierra Nevada also have increased, due to climate change-induced warmer temperatures, drought, and a legacy of fire suppression policies leading to increased fuel loads beyond their range of historic variability. These factors have the potential to severely impact California’s water supply. However, the effects of wildfire severity on snowpack have not been geospatially quantified. This study used NASA Earth observations, modeled climate data, and automated classification of Landsat imagery to quantify the effect of low, moderate, and high severity wildfire on snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) in the Sierra Nevada. Results indicate a moderate to strong correlation of rapid decreases in snowpack and SWE in areas of moderate to high severity burns. This information will assist in decision- and policy-making related to management of forest ecosystems and water resources within the Sierra Nevada.

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