Daniel Feldman: Getting Water Right in the Rockies

Published: 24 August 2021

A California scientist embarks on an ARM-supported mission in Colorado to measure the mechanisms influencing mountain hydrology

Standing on snow, Daniel Feldman smiles at the camera while holding skis.
Before the days of setting up the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL) campaign, Daniel Feldman pauses while cross-country skiing in Colorado. Photo is courtesy of Feldman.

Beginning in September 2021, a field campaign called the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL) will sweep up 21 continuous months of measurements on the land-atmosphere processes that steer mountain hydrology in the Upper Colorado River Basin. That’s the part of the Rocky Mountains from which almost all of the Colorado River’s water originates.

SAIL will be crewed by many institutions, starting with its chief source of technical support, the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility. The lead scientist is Daniel Feldman, a climate-modeling and remote-sensing expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

“SAIL is motivated by interest in water resources,” says Feldman, a member of ARM’s User Executive Committee. “Forty million people rely on the Colorado River for water, power, and economic activity.”

SAIL science goals include advancing observations and modeling of mountain hydrology and focusing on the details of the physical processes that control water resources in the Rockies.

Scientists will study how precipitation forms and why it is so variable across terrain and across seasons; how winds move around and erode the snowpack; how aerosols warm or cool the atmosphere and surface while also affecting precipitation and snowpack; and how local and remote conditions influence surface energy.

Getting all this “exquisite detail,” says Feldman, depends on many partners, but it largely pivots on ARM assets―most of all the second ARM Mobile Facility (AMF2). The siting of AMF2 and the installation of its 50-plus instruments for SAIL began in June 2021 in Gothic, Colorado.

The one-time ghost town is home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, a key partner for the SAIL campaign and a host of AMF2.

For a broader look at SAIL, Feldman’s life, and his other research, read this July 2021 scientist profile on the Atmospheric System Research (ASR) website.

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