March 2023 Newsletter

the power of PLACE

Winter - Redrock black and white

“Ma”: Snow, Sublimation, and Negative Space

Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,

but it is a centre hole that allows the wheel to function.

We mould clay into a pot,

but it is emptiness inside that makes the vessel useful.

We fashion wood for a house,

but it is the emptiness inside that makes it livable.

We work with the substantial,

but the emptiness is what we use.


Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu (4th Century BC)


The Japanese concept of “Ma” captures the importance of the snowpack stored in the mountains. Snow from the Rocky Mountains feeds the Colorado River and brings balance to the ecosystems of the southwest and peaceful co-existence to water consumers.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL


Probing snow

When we last talked with Dr. Jessica Lundquist of the University of Washington (Spring 2022 Newsletter), her team was setting up all the instruments needed to measure snow sublimation, the transformation of the snowpack (a solid) into vapor. Last October, the team installed the instruments at RMBL. Then winter came and generously dropped all the snow the researchers could want and then some. Now, with the avalanche of data the team has gathered, it’s likely that scientists will know more about what happens to fallen snow than ever before.

Who needs this information? Only the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for drinking water, among other things. The mountain snowpack is by far the largest source of water for the river. We already know that snowfall in the mountains has diminished over the past decade. Yet the river’s water has decreased much more in proportion. How much water are we losing to sublimation? That’s the urgent question researchers want to answer in the Sublimation of Snow project, aptly shortened to SoS.