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Nevada humanities professor a pioneer in snowpack measurement

James Church, a University of Nevada humanities professor who pioneered the measurement of...
James Church, a University of Nevada humanities professor who pioneered the measurement of snowpack.(University of Nevada, Reno)
Published: Apr. 3, 2021 at 1:34 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The method of surveying snowpacks to calculate water runoff was largely started by a University of Nevada humanities professor on Mount Rose more than a century ago.

James Church, a professor of classics, created the Mount Rose snow sampler. It used a metal tube to collect several feet of snow from several locations. The difference between the tube with the snow sample and the empty tube let snow surveyors estimate how much water the snowpack would produce.

Church and others also built a weather station on Mount Rose, hauling the equipment and materials up by horseback or in backpacks. His work on Mont Rose started in 1908. Nevada had only been a state for 44 years at the time.

“To Church, measuring snow wasn’t just for the purpose of recording data—it was a way to solve conflicts,” the University of Nevada, Reno said in a statement. “His expertise with snow allowed him to be a consultant internationally, attending conferences to share his knowledge and helping other countries and regions reliant on snow-fed water systems put snow surveys in place. "

Jeff Anderson, water supply specialist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained that this precipitation usually comes from the mountains, so it is crucial to know how much water will be available to plan for water-dependent activities, UNR noted.

“We really depend on that mountain snowpack,” Anderson said. “Being able to predict how much water will be available in the summertime really helps farmers across the West make a lot of important decisions, and it helps cities plan their water supply, [as well as] where they’re going to be able to get it from.”

The J.E. Church Fine Arts building on the UNR campus, opened in 1960, is named in honor of Church.

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