Community Snow Observations: The Future of Snowpack Data

Maggie Dean | BackcountryBackcountry | Industry NewsIndustry NewsBrainsBrains
backcountry, snowpack
These backcountry skiers don’t know it yet, but they have the opportunity to be a part of some real-deal NASA sponsored science! Photo: Erin Cunningham

Scientists from Oregon State University, University of Washington and University of Alaska are working together to gather more snowpack data than ever before by utilizing people like you and I.

The team of universities created a project called Community Snow Observations or CSO in December 2017. CSO allows backcountry skiers and other outdoorsmen to take their own snowpack measurements via avalanche probe and then upload their findings to a database using the Mountain Hub app on their smartphone. This ingenious way of collecting data is creating safer mountain communities around the country.

In the past, it was tedious and expensive for scientists to travel to all of the different snowy locations around the United States frequently enough to maintain a useful and accurate set of data. Crowd-sourcing the data from people who frequent the areas being studied creates a larger, more accurate accumulation of measurements than was ever thought possible. By recruiting citizen scientists, CSO is able to collect snowpack depths more frequently and systematically than ever before.

A skier taking a quick snowpack measurement in Thompson’s Pass, Alaska. This could be you! Photo: CSO

Community Snow Observations is funded by the NASA’s Earth Science Program. NASA and the universities involved with CSO provide the data collected for free here, allowing anyone with internet access to utilize the project. Being able to have more accurate depictions of the variations of snow depths in mountains allows scientists to confirm snow measurements taken via and reduce errors in their water runoff models. Reducing errors in water runoff models creates a safer backcountry experience as it allows for more accurate avalanche predictions.

yosemite falls waterfall, snowpack
Water runoff models may sound a little dry (no pun intended), but trust me, more accurate models are a great thing! Water runoff affects everything from climate change to tourism in mountain communities. Yosemite Falls, a major tourist attraction, is fed entirely by snowmelt each year and depends on models to predict their peak season. Photo: Bill Hatcher via National Geographic

If you find yourself around snow and are interested in becoming a citizen scientist, you can purchase an avalanche probe here and download the Mountain Hub app here. Your contributions to the Community Snow Observations project may seem small, but adding to the database even once helps create safer mountains for everyone!

avanlanche probe, snowpack
This graphic created by CSO shows how easy it is to correctly measure and upload a snow depth. Now get out there and do your part! Photo: CSO

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