CU-Boulder teams up with Mesa County to make snow-depth data free to water managers, farmers, public

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A University of Colorado Boulder professor who developed a clever method to measure snow depth using GPS signals is collaborating with Western Slope officials to make the data freely available to a variety of users on a daily basis.

Professor Kristine Larson

Professor Kristine Larson

CU-Boulder aerospace engineering sciences Professor Kristine Larson and her colleagues discovered in 2009 that GPS signals that bounce off Earth’s surface before hitting the receivers, once considered bothersome “noise,” could be used to measure snow depth, soil moisture and even vegetation moisture.

Larson also is a pioneer in the field of using GPS signals to chart minute plate tectonic and volcanic movements over time around the world.

In January, as part of a News Year’s resolution, Larson contacted the Mesa County Surveyor’s Office in Grand Junction, Colo., which has a sophisticated network of 23 stationary GPS reference stations, or receivers, both in and around Mesa County.

Mesa County GPS network

Mesa County GPS network

The spider web-like network stretches from Aspen west to Moab, Utah, and from Durango north to Craig, Colorado.

While the Mesa County GPS system is used for everything from capital improvements like road and bridge building to boundary line measurements and even some criminal cases — including homicides — the new snowpack information Larson has been teasing out of the data should be of interest to water resource managers, farmers, atmospheric scientists and others, she believes.

“I knew that most surveyors use the exact same equipment I do, and I looked at this as a chance to help out water managers, farmers and others on the Western Slope interested in information like spring runoff and crop moisture. I’m certainly not the only one measuring snow depth in Colorado, but now we have some free, extra data that can help experts not only assess potential flooding events but also anticipate possible water restrictions in years of low moisture.”
–Kristine Larson

Larson said she plans to continue working with the Mesa County Public Works Department because it is a win-win situation. Mesa County Public Works Department surveyor Frank Kochevar said Mesa County is pleased with the collaboration, and says its growing GPS network that is now providing a new kind of data at no cost to Coloradans may help mitigate natural resource challenges.

Read more about the collaboration at

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