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Soil Moisture Seminar Series - Water Resource Applications of Soil Moisture Monitoring: Case Studies from the Colorado River Headwaters

Event Date
March 19, 2024
Event Time
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

The National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network is hosting a regular online seminar series to share innovative soil moisture research activities. 

This seminar explored how soil moisture monitoring information can be used to support water resource and ecological applications by presenting case studies from two headwaters basins of the Colorado River:  

NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network, and the NIDIS Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) co-hosted this seminar.

For more information, please email Marina Skumanich (


Welcome and Introduction

Speaker: Marina Skumanich, NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network

  • Introduction to the seminar series and brief review of the National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network and the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning Network



The Roaring Fork Observation Network (iRON): Water Resource Applications

Speaker: Elise Osenga, Community Science Manager, Aspen Global Change Institute

This presentation included an overview of soil moisture and wildfire research, with a focus on opportunities to apply soil moisture information to improve fire danger rating systems and fire management. 

  • Background on the Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI) and description of the Roaring Fork Observation Network (iRON), including purpose, location, and instrumentation. Data available here.
  • Emphasis on the role of local community engagement in setting programmatic and research focus; requires a long-term commitment.
  • Current research focus: How does soil moisture impact runoff from snowpack?  The specific research question: What is the relationship between runoff efficiency (percent of water in the snowpack that becomes streamflow) and antecedent soil moisture at an 8” and 20" depth?
  • Research results for seven sites analyzed during the 2022 water year were surprisingly weak, with only two sites showing significant correlation between antecedent soil moisture levels and runoff efficiency.
  • This implies soil moisture may be a less significant factor in determining runoff than is currently assumed, but the role of antecedent soil moisture  needs to be investigated further. 
  • A recent research paper (Goble and Schumacher 2023) found that for the period 1981-2021, seasonal water supply forecasts in Western Colorado were not improved by inclusion of soil moisture, except for in the years 2020 and 2021. Were these years just outliers? Or do they indicate a threshold at which soil moisture becomes a more significant variable in determining spring runoff?
  • Further research by  Aspen Global Change Institute will include more examination of representativeness of the current in situ locations, comparisons with modeled data, as well as collaboration/comparison with the Yampa Basin project and USGS data from the basin.



YBASIN : Yampa Basin Atmospheric and Soil Moisture Integrated Network

Speaker:  El Knappe, Field Operations Manager, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, and Madison Muxworthy, Soil Moisture, Water & Snow Program Manager, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council

  • Research (Sumargo et al., 2020) has highlighted soil moisture as a key modifier of runoff generation from rainfall excess, such as large rainfall events due to atmospheric rivers. Meanwhile, there has been increasing uncertainty in reservoir inflow forecasts, as was experienced in the Yampa Basin in 2021. This stimulated interest in exploring whether soil moisture might better inform reservoir forecasts under a snow-influenced environment. 
  • Background on the Center for Western Weather and Water Extreme’s (CW3E’s) soil moisture networks within California, Washington, and Colorado (the Y-BASIN project).  
  • Partnerships since 2018 between CW3E, Colorado Mountain College, and the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council (YVSC) on the Yampa Basin Rendezvous, an annual meeting of scientists, water managers, and the community to discuss climate and water issues.  Sparked conversation to develop soil moisture monitoring within Yampa Basin.
  • Description of Y-BASIN, which is just in process of being installed, including program plan, site selection process, and instrumentation. This is the first year of data (available here).
  • Plans to apply data over time. 



Q&A (audio only)