A Berkeley-Merced collaboration is using small moisture sensors with wireless communicating motes to measure features critical to predicting spring and summer water availability.
Historically, the amount of water held in the Sierra winter snowpack has been estimated by intrepid snow surveyors who ski and helicopter in to selected mountain sites to measure snow depth monthly with steel tubes shoved into the snow.
The obvious solution seems to be wiring up the Sierra with sensors, but this has its own built-in limits: The physical constraints of laying wires throughout remote regions would still limit coverage, not to mention the unavoidable hazards of bears plowing through the wires and rodents chewing them up.
The solution lies in matching broad-coverage satellite data with more detailed measurements from an extensive wireless monitoring grid on the ground. Specially designed wireless sensors developed at UC Berkeley now are being deployed and tested in an ambitious pilot project directed by researchers at the UC Merced Sierra Nevada Research Institute.