Weather stations aid vegetation science

In summer, automatic weather stations measure plant growth as well as the weather. We are monitoring the development of vegetation around our measuring stations and ascertaining the meteorological conditions with which its growth is associated.

Every half hour, some 130 automatic weather stations in the Swiss Alps measure snow depth and other weather-related parameters, such as wind, temperature and humidity. These stations are part of the Intercantonal Measurement and Information System (IMIS), run by the SLF in collaboration with the Swiss federal government and cantonal and municipal authorities. They are located at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,000 m. The data they supply are of inestimable value to avalanche warning teams. Climatologists and biologists have been using this measurement data since the 1990s to determine the rapidity and timing of the snowmelt, a key variable for Alpine ecosystems.

A few years ago, we discovered that IMIS stations' ultrasound sensors measure not only snow depth but also plant growth during the summer months. Since then, we have been using the measurement data and records on the range of species to investigate how plant growth near the stations correlates with snowmelt and the climate.