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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Samuel Tuttle Awarded NASA Grant to Study Snowmelt

Sam Tuttle profile

Posted on: Nov. 23, 2021

by Lesley Porcelli

Samuel Tuttle, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has been awarded a grant from NASA for his project: Snowmelt Detection at Enhanced Spatiotemporal Resolution through Fusion of Satellite Active and Passive Microwave Observations.

Tuttle will use existing satellite data to improve methods for monitoring melting snow on Earth’s surface. Snow can change very quickly; it can melt, refreeze, or even completely disappear in a matter of hours. It is also quite variable from location to location. Current satellite instruments either do not see Earth in enough detail or do not produce images of any given location frequently enough to be optimal for snow monitoring. Tuttle will use a statistical approach to address these shortcomings by combining different satellite datasets to understand when the snow is “wet,”—partially liquid—or “dry”—completely frozen.

During the winter, freezing temperatures partially halt the water cycle. Any time snow accumulates on the land surface (usually during the cold months), it locks up water that can only be released to the surrounding environment when the snow melts. Water released from melting snow, which can last far into the summer in some mountainous areas, is a crucial resource for many arid regions.

Information about snowmelt can help scientists to forecast flooding, track climate change, and estimate how much water is locked up in snow on the planet at any given moment. Snowmelt is also closely linked to a cascade of ecological processes, such as vegetation leaf-out (when woody plants produce leaves), soil microbial activity, and wildlife movement. Changes in the timing of spring snow disappearance can influence these processes.