ARM’s SAIL Campaign and NOAA’s SPLASH Study Launch in Colorado

Published: 1 December 2021

Both campaigns will be featured during 2021 AGU town hall

The Colorado River Basin is a primary water source for six states and 40 million people from Denver, Colorado, to Los Angeles, California. Researchers seek to better predict how, in complex terrain, the atmosphere, surface, and subsurface fit together to influence the dwindling water resources produced by the basin.

To improve the understanding and modeling of the dominant processes that affect mountainous hydrology, the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility is conducting the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL) field campaign. SAIL launched in September 2021 near Crested Butte, Colorado. The campaign is collecting data on precipitation, clouds, wind, aerosols, radiation, and other environmental components until June 2023.

SAIL is complemented by a concurrent NOAA-led campaign in the region: the Study of Precipitation, the Lower Atmosphere and Surface for Hydrometeorology (SPLASH). The yearlong SPLASH campaign is designed to gain detailed insight into the physical processes that drive basin-scale weather and water availability in the Mountain West.

A disdrometer is distanced from a snow-level radar in a grassy area.
A disdrometer—an instrument measuring the drop size, distribution, and velocity of precipitation—and a snow-level radar are part of the SPLASH network of instruments installed near Crested Butte, Colorado. Photo is by Dave Costa, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences/NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory.

NOAA labs are participating in SPLASH with partners from universities, federal and state organizations, and industries. The campaign runs through summer 2022.

SPLASH will measure atmospheric, precipitation, soil moisture, and snowpack properties in the East River Watershed with a network of radars, instrument towers, and individual sensors. In addition, SPLASH will collect detailed measurements on snowfall accumulation by using instrumented crewed and uncrewed aircraft. Together, these observations will help with evaluating and improving the tools used to predict weather and water over complex terrain across various time scales.

Under dark clouds, the X-band radar sits on top of a box in a grassy space. Nearby trees are changing color from green to yellow.
An X-band radar, deployed as part of SPLASH, sits beneath somber skies in Colorado’s West Elk Mountains. Photo is by Rob Cifelli, NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory.

SPLASH is led by Gijs de Boer from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a partnership of NOAA and the University of Colorado, Boulder. De Boer previously led ARM campaigns at Oliktok Point, Alaska.

SPLASH and SAIL will be featured together in an upcoming town hall at the 2021 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. The town hall, SAIL and SPLASH: Integrated Mountainous Hydrology Science and Observations in the Upper Colorado River Basin, will include de Boer and SAIL lead scientist Daniel Feldman as presenters.

The AGU town hall is scheduled from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Central time Tuesday, December 14. In addition to in-person attendance at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (Room 386–387), the town hall will be open to virtual attendees. (Check the town hall’s abstract page for updates.)

For more about SPLASH, read this news release on the NOAA website.

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ARM is a DOE Office of Science user facility operated by nine DOE national laboratories.