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Tech Used to Monitor Arctic Ice Could Improve Scottish Flood Warnings

Ross Kelly

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SIMBA

The high-tech equipment monitors snow accumulation zones at altitudes of around 1,000 metres, giving researchers detailed insights into melt rates and temperatures. 

Technology designed to monitor Arctic sea ice could provide early warnings for floods and avalanches in the Scottish Highlands.

Originally designed by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), the Sea Ice Mass Balance Array (SIMBA) is used around the world to monitor the thickness of sea ice.

However, SAMS has been working alongside the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) to test whether the technology can monitor snowpacks forming in the Cairngorm mountains.

The high-tech equipment gathers data in snow accumulation zones at altitudes of around 1,000 metres; measuring ground, snow and air temperature profiles, snow accumulation, melt rates and total depth.

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Readings can be provided around the clock and even during storms or conditions which make the sites inaccessible.

“In a time of rapid change in our climate, it has become increasingly important to gather accurate data and create predictive models that give agencies the earliest forecasts possible,” said David Guthrie, SAMS’ head of enterprise.

“Thanks to this collaboration, we have an opportunity to test SIMBA in a challenging environment such as the Cairngorms, as we explore its potential for assessing flood and avalanche risk,” he added.

SIMBA will be deployed in Glen Feshie this winter, with researchers testing how effectively it can detect and monitor snow melt. The collection of this vital data could help scientists understand how snowmelt contributes to floods. Long-term, the technology could help enhance flood prediction models across the country.

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Dr Andrew Black, a hydrologist from the University of Dundee who is assisting in the trial, said the new system could present an “exciting new opportunity” to improve future forecasting methods.

“Snow melt is notoriously difficult to predict accurately because of the variability of snow depths and the difficulty in collecting relevant data,” he said. “This new system from SAMS presents an exciting new opportunity to monitor snow depth and water content in more detail and will present excellent opportunities to improve forecasting methods.”

“Studying snow melt in the Feshie catchment complements our existing monitoring of rainfall and river flows in that area,” Black added. “Snow which melts on the mountains of this area of the Cairngorms will take at least three hours to reach the River Feshie; this project shows the potential of improved monitoring to inform river flow predictions.”

Testing of the monitoring equipment could also extend to other mountain ranges in the near future, researchers said.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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