Water resources

Selection of Scripps Oceanography & UC San Diego research & resources


Predicting, modeling, and anticipating extreme precipitation

Phenomena like atmospheric rivers (ARs) are poorly understood yet play key roles in water supply. For example, ARs produce 25-50% of the water supply in many areas of the Western United States. Yet, warming effects of climate change result in more significant drought and water supply depletion. The lack of precipitation during drought events, exacerbated by extreme temperatures, doesn’t allow water reservoirs to refill. Predicting, modeling, and anticipating such phenomena are crucial to maintaining a stable water supply. Scripps scientists at the Center for Western Weather & Water Extremes (CW3E) study these weather events to better inform decision-making about water resource management, and in partnership with federal, state, and local organizations have already developed forecasting tools to predict the presence and strength of ARs.

PI: Marty Ralph


Monitoring snowpack

Snowpack is very valuable as a reserve water supply, which are increasingly vulnerable in an ever-warmer climate. The snowpack is already beginning to melt earlier in spring than in the past, which threatens protocols and coordination around water resource management like reservoirs. Scripps scientists have installed a network of environmental sensors to detect changes in high-altitude water, changes in snowpack, and the rates of runoff from California mountains.

PIs: Daniel Cayan, David Pierce


Monitoring ground water storage changes with GPS

The Earth deforms elastically under a load such as surface water, and this load can increase drastically in the event of large precipitation events like hurricanes. GPS monitoring of Earth’s deformations captures accurately total and regional rainfall and can be used to monitor ground water storage following a hurricane. This method was used during and after Hurricane Harvey to identify that much of the rainfall from the hurricane did not enter the existing drainage network in Houston. This method can be used to monitor evapo-transpiration from ponds and basins, which is one of the largest components of  a water budget in hydrological models and is not currently tracked, to improve water resource and disaster management decision-making and monitoring.

PI: Adrian Borsa


Optimized reservoir operations

Scripps scientists participate in the Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO), a collaborative proposed management strategy as an approach to use modeling, forecasting tools, and improved information to help water managers selectively retain or release water from reservoirs using current and forecasted conditions. As a case study, Lake Mendocino was chosen to update protocols established in 1959 and last updated in 1986. These outdated protocols do not account for changing conditions in the watershed, including developing ARs, increased variation in dry and wet weather patterns, and drought events. FIRO offers solutions using up-to-date forecasting tools to better balance flood control and water supply needs at Lake Mendocino with potential to expand these benefits to more watersheds.

PI: Marty Ralph

Work with Scripps

  • Access leading climate scientist expertise for decision-making and planning
  • Design collaborative research and strategy for water resource management
  • Get a seat at the table for the latest scientific updates
  • Learn how to implement newest water resource management tools
  • Work with talented Scripps students and potential hires
Selected scientists

Assistant Professor Adrian Borsa

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Dr. Daniel Cayan, Researcher, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Director, California Nevada Applications Program

Director, California Climate Change Center


Dr. F. Marty Ralph, Research Meteorologist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Director, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E)