Mountain hydrology, snow color, and the fourth paradigm



The world's mountain ranges accumulate substantial snow, whose melt produces the bulk of runoff and often combines with rain to cause floods. Worldwide, inadequate understanding and a reliance on sparsely distributed observations limit our ability to predict seasonal and paroxysmal runoff as climate changes, ecosystems adapt, populations grow, land use evolves, and societies make choices. To improve assessments of snow accumulation, melt, and runoff, scientists and community planners can take advantage of two emerging trends: (1) an ability to remotely sense snow properties from satellites at a spatial scale appropriate for mountain regions (10- to 100-meter resolution, coverage of the order of 100,000 square kilometers) and a daily temporal scale appropriate for the dynamic nature of snow and (2) The Fourth Paradigm [Hey et al., 2009], which posits a new scientific approach in which insight is discovered through the manipulation of large data sets as the evolutionary step in scientific thinking beyond the first three paradigms: empiricism, analyses, and simulation. The inspiration for the book's title comes from pioneering computer scientist Jim Gray, based on a lecture he gave at the National Academy of Sciences 3 weeks before he disappeared at sea.