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March 7, 2016

GROW Program hydrology research in Chile (Image 3)

Alia Khan of the University of Colorado Boulder and a group of Chilean glaciologists from the University of Chile Santiago take snow pit measurements at Cajon del Maipo. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide Program.

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From August to October 2014, Alia Khan, a Ph.D. candidate and former National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, spent time in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Chile Santiago where she conducted research on the impacts of mining dust and black carbon on snow and ice melt in the Andean Watershed.

For her research, which was supported by NSF's Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) Program of which she was the first GROW fellow in Chile, Khan conducted fieldwork at Cajón de Maipo, the main watershed that provides drinking water to the city of Santiago. She took snow surveys of hundreds of physical snow depth points, taken with snow probes, as well as dug snow pits for layering and snow pack structure. Researchers at the university will use this data to create hydrologic models, which in turn predict water resources for the region and contribute a multi-year record for long-term monitoring of water resources in the region. The GROW program was created in 2012 by NSF to expand and enhance international collaborative research opportunities for NSF Graduate Research Fellows.

Khan also conducted research in the Chillán region, where she collected hundreds of physical snow depth points with snow probes and collected samples for dust and black carbon analysis.

Her last round of fieldwork was in conjunction with the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Zonas Aridas, the Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones. This work consisted of setting up meteorological stations in Cajón de Maipo and surrounding glaciers. Khan again collected snow and water samples for her dissertation research and had the opportunity to help and learn more about setting up field meteorological stations on glaciers, which are important for aiding in mass-balance calculations.

Khan also visited the watershed for El Teniente, one of the largest mines outside of Santiago. She collected hundreds of physical snow depth measurements, dug more snow pits and collected her own thesis samples for dust and black carbon analysis.

Khan's next step is to build on her Chilean GROW experience with postdoctoral research. She is seeking funding to begin long-term monitoring of dust and black carbon in the Chilean Andes, after which she will incorporate the results into existing hydrologic models by creating a new "snow impurities" parameter specific to these regions of the Andean watershed. The aim is to better understand how dust and black carbon enhance the melt of snow and ice, thereby affecting the hydrology and water resources of the region. (Date image taken: 2014; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: March 7, 2016) [Image 3 of 7 related images. See Image 4.]

Credit: Alia Khan, University of Colorado Boulder

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