Church, James

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Photograph needed for James Church


James Edward Church 1869 (Holly, Michigan, USA)–1959 (Reno, Nevada, USA)


In 1892 James Church began teaching at the University of Nevada at Reno as a professor of Greek and Latin after receiving his PhD from the University of Munich) . He was also an avid outdoorsman who undertook many daredevil, wintertime ascents in the Sierra Nevada. In 1896, he was the first person of European descent to ascend Mount Rose, south of Reno, (on snowshoes in winter) What started out as pure adventure quickly became a passion of some considerable significance in the world of hydrology.

Church's love of the snowy mountains soon led to his spending a great deal of time in wintry landscapes. Aware of his reputation, a local power company asked him to make measurements of the snow deposits so that forecasts of the spring runoff could be made for their power-generating facilities. Church quickly recognized that measurements of snow depth alone were not enough because of snow's variable density, and he developed the Mt. Rose snow-sampling tube. If core samples were extracted from the snow cover, the snow water equivalent could be determined to give the melted equivalent of the snow deposit.

In response to the important need for accurate forecasts of snowmelt runoff, Church gave up his academic position to establish a set of snow survey courses in Nevada. Subsequently, he was involved with the initiation of surveys in other states before exporting his approach to countries around the world. The greatest challenge came in 1947 when he went to India to apply his methods to the world's highest mountains, whose snow fields feed some of the world's greatest rivers.

For three years, commencing in 1926, he was part of the University of Michigan Greenland Expeditions, and during the 1930s he traveled to Russia to consult with scientists studying snow. In the 1940s his travels ranged across the Americas and northern Europe and to the Himalayas.

Church was no mere technician. Along the route from professor of classics to snow scientist, he was sufficiently well respected to be elected president of the International Commission of Snow and Ice, where he had some influence over the rapidly developing field of glaciology. While his methods may seem primitive in this day of remote sensing and easy communications, Mt. Rose samplers and their many derivatives are still one of the fundamental tools of snow and ice data collection today.

Dr. Church also had a deep commitment to the fine arts. He persuaded his friend Charles F. Cutts to participate with him in founding the Nevada Art Gallery (now the Nevada Museum of Art). From 1931, until his death in 1959, he provided the personal leadership—and continuous financial support—that helped sustain the Nevada Art Gallery. The Church Fine Arts Complex on the University of Nevada, Reno campus—which opened in 1962, 3 years after his death—is named after him.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

A pioneer of snow hydrology and snowmelt runoff

Reference Material[edit]

Opportunities in the Hydrological Sciences, National Academy Press

Online Nevada biography of James Church

James E. Church Wikipedia entry

Major Publications[edit]

Church, J.E., 1912. The progress of Mount Rose Observatory, 1906-1912. Science, pp.796-800.

Church, J.E., 1917. Snow Surveying: Its problems and their present phases with reference to Mount Rose, Nevada and vicinity. US Government Printing Office.

Church, J.E., 1933. Snow surveying: its principles and possibilities. Geographical Review, 23(4), pp.529-563.

Church, J.E., 1935. Principles of snow surveying as applied to forecasting stream flow. US Government Printing Office.

Church, J.E., 1937. The human side of snow. The Scientific Monthly, 44, pp.137-149.

Church, J.E., 1941. The melting of snow. Michigan State College.

Church, J.E., 1949. Snow and snow surveying; ice. Hydrology. Dover Publications, NY, pp.83-148.


Description of Mount Rose snow sampler in George D. Clyde, 1932, Circular No. 99 - Utah Snow Sampler and Scales for Measuring Water Content of Snow

A Guide to the Papers of James E. Church, University of Reno