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Wireless Sensor Networks for Improved Snow Water Equivalent and Runoff Estimates

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We leverage the frontiers of the Internet of Things technology in a recently developed end-to-end wireless sensor network (WSN) system that samples, collects, stores, and displays mountain hydrology measurements in near real-time. At the core of the system lies an ultra-low power, radio channel-hoping, and self-organizing mesh that allows for remote autonomous sampling of snow. Such properties, combined with a rugged weather-sealed design of the devices and multi-level data replication, provides reliable real-time data at spatial and temporal scales previously impractical to achieve in mountain environments. The system was deployed at three 1 km 2 sites across the North Fork of the Feather River basin with a cluster of 12 sensor nodes for each location. Measurements show that existing operational autonomous systems are non-representative spatially, with biases that can reach up to 50%. A comparison between a wet and dry year showed that snow depths exhibit strong multi-scale inter-year spatial stationarity with major rank conservation. Temporally dense analysis using elastic net regression shows that dominant features at the sub-km 2 scale are site-dependent and differ from the watershed scale. Newly introduced explanatory variables, based on the nearest neighbor with a Landsat assimilated historical product, consistently explained up to 90% of the variance in the watershed-scale SWE for both years. At two WSN sites, lagged cross-correlation of snowmelt with stream flow measurements showed a significant improvement of up to 100% compared with existing systems, suggesting that WSNs can be instrumental in improving runoff forecasting and water management.

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