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Boise State Snow Scientist Awarded International Honor for Outstanding Contributions

By:    Published 12:41 pm / December 2, 2010

Communities across the world are deeply affected by the “cryosphere” — any part of Earth’s surface where water takes the form of snow and ice. While the annual melt can mean avalanches and floods it also promises water for drinking, irrigating, recreating and generating electricity, and Boise State University’s Hans-Peter Marshall is on the leading edge of efforts to better understand and estimate the spatial distribution of water stored as snow, which is a critical natural resource.

Marshall is an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences specializing in snow science and glaciology. Later this month he will attend the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Calif., to accept the 2010 Young Investigator Award. The award honors one young scientist a year worldwide for making significant contributions to cryospheric science and technology.

Marshall’s contributions range from compelling field research to educational outreach. He began impacting the cryospheric science community as a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. As part of his doctoral thesis, he developed a portable microwave radar device in collaboration with scientists from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL). The device measures snow depth, Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) and snow layering 50 times per second, enabling estimates of snow properties hundreds of times faster than standard techniques.

“Estimates of the amount of water stored in the snowpack are essential for predicting available hydroelectric power and flood forecasting as well as water resource management. More than a billion people worldwide depend on snowmelt for water supply,” Marshall said. “The work is its own reward, but receiving the AGU Young Investigator Award is a great honor.”

Over the past six years, Marshall has built five of the portable microwave radar devices for CRREL, UC Boulder and Boise State. He currently is building two more for the Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment within India’s Department of Defense.

Marshall also is testing and improving techniques for estimating SWE from NASA and the European Space Agency’s airborne and spaceborne radar platforms. The work is being supported by a recent $330,000 grant from the NASA New Investigator Program. Marshall is the first in Idaho to receive this distinction.

“The cryosphere will see major changes in the future,” Marshall said. “Our ability to accurately monitor snow using remote sensing, modeling and field measurements has never been more critical.”

Read more about Marshall’s award on the AGU website.