Water Resources of Colorado

Rocky Mountain Snowpack Chemistry Network:
History, Methods, and the Importance of Monitoring Mountain Ecosystems

by George P. Ingersoll, John T. Turk, M. Alisa Mast, David W. Clow, Donald H. Campbell, and Zelda C. Bailey

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Open-File Report 01–466, 14 p., 5 figs.

This document also is available in pdf format: Adobe Acrobat Icon OFR 01–466.pdf (581K)
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Because regional-scale atmospheric deposition data in the Rocky Mountains are sparse, a program was designed by the U.S. Geological Survey to more thoroughly determine the quality of precipitation and to identify sources of atmospherically deposited pollution in a network of high-elevation sites. Depth-integrated samples of seasonal snowpacks at 52 sampling sites, in a network from New Mexico to Montana, were collected and analyzed each year since 1993. The results of the first 5 years (1993–97) of the program are discussed in this report. Spatial patterns in regional data have emerged from the geographically distributed chemical concentrations of ammonium, nitrate, and sulfate that clearly indicate that concentrations of these acid precursors in less developed areas of the region are lower than concentrations in the heavily developed areas. Snowpacks in northern Colorado that lie adjacent to both the highly developed Denver metropolitan area to the east and coal-fired powerplants to the west had the highest overall concentrations of nitrate and sulfate in the network. Ammonium concentrations were highest in northwestern Wyoming and southern Montana.

Table of Contents


Background and Program History

Sampling Methods

Network Design and Sampling Locations

Timing of Sample Collection

Methods of Sample Collection

Results of Monitoring

Regional Monitoring

Local Monitoring

Importance of Long-Term Monitoring




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Water Resources of Colorado

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