NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU):

"The Value of Snow": Summer Research Experiences in Drought Resiliency and Natural Resources Issues in the Sierra Nevada and Great Basin Region

Deadline March 18, 2016

REU Flier (PDF download)
Mentor Profiles (PDF download)
Research Project Overviews (PDF download)
2016 REU Application (PDF download) OR (Word file download)

Research Project Overviews:

The influence of topography/topoclimates on temperature and snow cover (1 student)
Our research opportunity links newly available remote sensing datasets to existing observational and GIS data in mountain systems of the Great Basin. Specifically, an REU student would work with Professor Albright, graduate students, and other collaborators to explore the influence of topography/topoclimates on temperature and snow cover characteristics. This may also address questions about relationships between snow cover dynamics and biodiversity (e.g. American Pika). Specific activities anticipated for the REU student may include: participation in field data collection in and around Great Basin National Park, processing of environmental time series and GIS data, processing of remotely sensed data products, and visualization, analysis, and presentation of results. (Thomas Albright, Geography, UNR)

Rephotography: Changing Landscapes in the Tahoe Basin (2 students)

Rephotography of historical views of Lake Tahoe, including the Angora Fire Region: A continuing visual analysis of historical views of Lake Tahoe including the 1916 Shoreline Survey, architecture and landscapes of the Tahoe Basin, and the 2007 fire area near South Lake Tahoe. This project involves archive research, a dedicated focus on rephotography, and both historical and contemporary image management. (Peter Goin, Department of Art, UNR).

Predicting Changes from Snow to Rain in the Eastern Sierra Nevada (1 student)

Changes in precipitation phase from snow to rain has direct impacts on water for people and ecosystems. Changes from snow to rain is expected to increase as a result of climate change. However, our tools for predicting changes from snow to rain remain relatively weak and untested. The REU student will use data from four laser disdrometers (two in Mammoth Lakes and two near Lake Tahoe) to evaluate the accuracy of different prediction techniques to distinguish rain and snow. Techniques include temperature, temperature and humidity, and comparison of indirect observations of precipitation and snow amount. The student will prepare datasets, develop simple models, and statistically analyze the results. The student will also have the opportunity to help install additional ecohydrological and snow instrumentation in Sagehen Creek watershed as part of the project. (Adrian Harpold, Hydrology, UNR)

Economic Impact of Drought (1 student)

Students will become familiar with social accounting matrix model analysis for estimating the distributional impacts of changes in snow fall on the state or regional economy. Students will estimate the change in water supply from lack (or increase) in rainfall and estimate reductions (or increases) in agricultural activity from less (more) irrigation activity. Students will learn how to take the impacts to the agricultural sector and estimate the region wide regional distributional impacts. Distributional impacts will be economic, employment, labor income, and occupational impacts. (Tom Harris, Economics, UNR)

Quantifying contributions of snow-fed rivers to water resources of large cities in the Western U.S. (1 student)

Most large cities in the western U.S. rely on their water supply from snow-fed rivers, but the extent of their reliance is not known. The largest cities of western U.S. are usually at the foothills of mountains, where snow-fed rivers have been diverted and dammed and form the basis of their water source. Research has shown that changes in climate are causing snowpack properties to change, altering the timing of streamflow, and their water budgets. Similarly, water use in this region/cities is also changing,though not reflective of the changes in hydrology and often corresponds to their geography, climate, infrastructure and socioeconomic demand. While water managers in different regions/cities know what their sources of water are, there is no single database that quantifies the snow contribution to water resources of the largest cities of western U.S. It is important to quantify this contribution since it enables comparisons of the anticipated effects of climate change in cities across the Western US. For example, to evaluate the water supply risk of Phoenix, Arizona and Reno, Nevada to decreasing snowpack depth, we must understand what percentage of the city’s water originates in mountain snowpack. The goal of this project is to develop a database of meta-data critical for comparing water resources in Western cities. The database will include description of geography (i.e. size and location), climate (i.e. typical seasons and rainfall), hydrology (i.e. contributing rivers and streams), infrastructure to absorb the effects of changing water supplies (i.e. presence of reservoir storage), socioeconomic structure (i.e. population), and water demand (i.e. domestic versus municipal versus agriculture demand). The student will learn basic skills in geographic information. (Sheshadri Rajagopal, Hydrometeorology, Desert Research Institute)

Valuing Improved Water Clarity in Lake Tahoe (1 student)

Environmental economists use economic theory and statistical methods to establish economic values for environmental goods and services that do not have market prices. Project researchers are looking for an REU student to help analyze data from an environmental economics, non-market valuation study on water quality in Lake Tahoe. We are interested in examining the economic value of public programs that target the removal and control of two aquatic invasive species: milfoil and Asian clams. These two aquatic invasive species are held to be the main drivers of recent declines in nearshore water quality and clarity in Lake Tahoe. We are also interested in analyzing the economic value of programs to reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires in the Lake Tahoe Basin through the use of fuel treatments on public lands. Erosion related to catastrophic wildfires is a major threat to water quality in Lake Tahoe. Students participating in this program would gain experience working with using econometric methods to analyze data, as well as in preparing and presenting research results. Furthermore, the public programs being analyzed are based on a pilot program that has been successful at controlling milfoil infestations at Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, and, as such, the results from this work are likely to have immediate policy impact at the lake. (Kim Rollins, Economics, UNR)

Modeling reservoir operations to mitigate for climate impacts on fisheries (1 student)

Climate extremes like floods and droughts can have large impacts on ecosystems, especially in snowmelt-driven systems. We are modeling reservoir operations at Shasta Lake in northern California to look at alternatives for improving conditions for endangered fisheries while meeting operational constraints to satisfy flood control, water quality, and water supply needs. The student on this project will assist with computer modeling of the Shasta Lake system. (Laurel Saito, Hydrology, UNR)

Food security and marginal lands (1 student)

We are working with salt-loving plants called halophytes that can live in saline environments to see if they can be useful for improving crop production and soil and water quality on marginal lands like those found in the Great Basin. The student will be involved in greenhouse and field experiments with these plants, and may also assist with computer modeling on the project. (Laurel Saito, Hydrology, UNR)

Examining the International Applicability of Collaborative Modeling for Climate Resiliency in Snowfed Arid Land River Basins (1 student)

Creating effective responses to improve resilience to extreme climate events, such as prolonged drought, requires interactive examination of human and natural systems. Collaborative modeling provides an effective multi-stakeholder, multi-criteria decision-making methodology to assess climate resilience and potential adaptation strategies in this context. Our research project, based in the Truckee- Carson River System in northern Nevada, pilots a collaborative modeling and participatory research methodology, partnering hydrologists, climatologists, and social scientists with community decision- makers to understand potential climate impacts, vulnerabilities and opportunities, and adaptation strategies. This project will examine the transferability of this methodology to other snow-fed arid-land river basins outside of the US. Internationally, river basins with these characteristics exhibit wide variation in terms of population, governance, and development. Transferring these methods to different locations creates a set of potential challenges related to complexity and scalability. The goal of this project is to identify these challenges and assist the project team in adapting this methodology for successful implementation under different conditions. (Loretta Singletary, Economics/Political Science,University Cooperative Extension)

Ecohydrological Effects of Pinyon and Juniper Removal (1 student)

The expansion of pinyon and juniper into areas formerly dominated by sagebrush may have important implications for watershed hydrology. This project will focus on snowmelt, soil moisture recharge and plant water use. In this study, a student researcher will use data from an instrumented watershed in central Nevada, the Porter Canyon Experimental Watershed in the Desatoya Mountains. The objectives are to understand how treated areas, where trees were cut down and left as slash, differ from areas with standing trees and areas with sagebrush in terms of snow depth, snow melt, soil water recharge and plant water use. The student will gain experience with environmental sensor data, field studies, data analysis and modeling (Keirith Snyder, Ecohydrology, USDA-ARS).

Sage Grouse: Habitat Restoration in the Sierra Nevada (1 student)

Research on effects of vegetation and habitat restoration projects on sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat within Bi-State population management units. The Bi-State sage grouse are treated as a distinct population and were listed under the Endangered Species Act in September 2013 as a threatened species. The student will participate in data collection and evaluation of preliminary results on several restoration projects. (Lee Turner, Habitat Restoration, Nevada Department of Wildlife)

Ecological Investigations of Tree Limits in Nevada Mountain Ranges (2 students)
REU students will conduct ecological field research in the rugged and picturesque mountain ranges of Nevada’s Great Basin, as part of a broader study investigating how the distribution of tree species in arid landscapes is ultimately limited by environmental gradients, land use practices, and natural disturbances such as wildfire. Students will have opportunity to develop an independent research project and to gain experience with various ecological methods including tree-ring research (dendroecology), GIS and remote sensing analysis, and stable carbon isotope analysis of water stress in trees. Students must be physically fit as there will be considerable hiking and fieldwork involved. (Peter Weisberg, Landscape Ecology, UNR)

Past Award Recipients and Posters



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SMA-1263352. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.