User Profile: Kelly Gleason

Who Uses NASA Earth Science Data? Kelly Gleason, to study interactions of ecosystem disturbance and mountain hydroclimatology along with the associated implications for water resource availability in a changing climate.

Kelly Gleason, Postdoctoral Research Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey

Photograph of Kelly Gleason

Research interests: Interactions of ecosystem disturbance and mountain hydroclimatology along with the associated implications for water resource availability in a changing climate.

Current research/work focus: For the past four years, Gleason has studied forest fire disturbance on snowpack energy balance and snowpack ablation in a recently burned forest in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Her research seeks to shed new light on the effects forest fires have on snow hydrology. “I hope to improve our overall understanding of ecosystem disturbance and snowpack hydrology interactions,” Gleason says. “This will provide useful tools to resource managers to better predict not only interactions of ecosystem disturbance, but also climate change effects to water resources in forested snow-dominated regions.”

Data products used:

  • Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)/Terra maximum snow cover area product with a spatial and temporal resolution of 500 m and 8 days, respectively. This data set is available through the National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (NSIDC DAAC).
  • MODIS vegetation continuous fields collection at a spatial resolution of 250 m. This collection, which is created from MODIS data available through NASA’s Land Processes DAAC, provides proportional estimates for vegetative cover types: woody vegetation, herbaceous vegetation, and bare ground. It is available through the Global Land Cover Facility at the University of Maryland.
  • National Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) burned area boundaries data set, which is vector polygon data derived from Landsat data. It is available at

Research findings: Gleason found that between 2000 and 2014 80% of forest fires in the western U.S. occurred in the seasonal snow zone and that these fires were 4.4 times larger than those occurring outside the seasonal snow zone. Almost half (48%) of the forest fires in the seasonal snow zone occurred in the Columbia River Basin of the Pacific Northwest, which is an area with a vulnerable snowpack due to the warming climate.

From observational research, Gleason determined that in the winters following forest fires the more open canopy allowed 60% more sunlight to reach the snowpack surface, while the sloughing of charred debris from standing dead trees darkened the snowpack surface and reduced the snow albedo by 40%. These two factors led to a 200% increase in the amount of sunlight absorbed by the snowpack surface, which resulted in faster snowmelt in the burned forest. As a consequence, snow disappearance occurred three weeks earlier in burned areas than in the adjacent unburned forest.

Read about the research:

Gleason, K., Nolin, A.W. & Roth, T.R. (2013). Charred forests increase snowmelt: Effects of burned woody debris and incoming solar radiation on snow ablation. Geophysical Research Letters, 40(17): 4654-4661. doi:10.1002/grl.50896.

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