Benjamin Hatchett lives in Reno, Nevada. As an Assistant Research Professor at the Desert Research Institute and Western Regional Climate Center he uses observational data and numerical modelling approaches to study weather and climate in mountain and dryland regions spanning the past, present, and future.
Ben is passionate about understanding the natural world and how we can live more harmoniously with nature while still maintaining a healthy economy and lifestyle. Mountain regions are highly sensitive to climatic change. Understanding how these landscapes have changed in the past and are changing before our eyes in response to abrupt shifts in regional and global climate will be critical in helping human and ecological communities adapt and become more resilient under continued warming.
Growing up snowboarding in the Donner Summit region of the northern Sierra Nevada, Ben was always interested in how we could have such snowy winters, why avalanches occur, and what is happening before and during rain-on-snow events. He became particularly interested in mountain weather during his Level III avalanche certification course and spending a season steep skiing in Chamonix, so he returned to graduate school to study meteorology.
Ben’s PhD work focused on climate variability and hydrologic modeling of a snow-dominated watershed that drains into a closed basin lake (no outlet to the sea) and quantifying how past lake level variability was tied to atmospheric circulations at various timescales. His first postdoctoral paper developed a link between avalanche fatalities, atmospheric river conditions, and snow climates in the western US. Some of his recent research has focused on the Sierra Nevada cryosphere, and includes characterizing recent changes in the snowline elevation, the types of snow droughts that can occur, extremely high snow level storms, upside-down storms, and how early season snowpack is changing.
What is community science? Why join CSO?
To Ben, community science means that everyone, with just a bit of basic training, has the ability to contribute useful data and observations that ultimately inform a deeper understanding of a given physical process. We are all community members of the planet, and if we pool our observations together, we can often answer questions—such as the distribution of rainfall, when certain species migrate, or what a given type of bird eats in an urban environment—that would be very difficult to answer without our collective contributions.
Compared to many mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada has reasonably good coverage in terms of weather stations and of a variety of novel observational networks, such as the snow level radar network. Nonetheless, by seeing the improvement in numerical modeling of snowpack that highly distributed observations of snow depth from the CSO project provides, it was clear to Ben that joining and helping to contribute towards additional data could further enhance our ability to accurately estimate snowpack and water resources. He’s also interested in helping to understand the timing of achieving sufficient snow depth for winter recreation and what atmospheric processes are responsible for the observed variability and trends in early season snowpack accumulation.
As Ben says, “The more data, the better the model output! Improved results lead to more informed water resource management decisions and a better understanding of where and how much snow is and isn’t on the landscape. decisions can!”
Check out Ben on Instagram @dr.opz