NASA Needs You! Scientists Asking Backcountry Skiers to Help Measure Snowpack

Steven Agar | BackcountryBackcountry | Industry NewsIndustry News
NASA, snowpack, scientists, research, alaska, pnw, backcountry, skiers, measure
Not only backcountry skiing, helping the planet too. Credit: CSO

NASA researchers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska are looking for backcountry enthusiasts who want to aid a science mission, reports ABC News.

NASA’s earth science arm is funding research that recruits citizen scientists on skis, snowshoes, and snowmobiles to measure snow depth in backcountry locations of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Their measurements will be incorporated into computer models that calculate how much water will end up in the region’s rivers and reservoirs. Early results have been promising.

NASA, snowpack, scientists, research, alaska, pnw, backcountry, skiers, measure
There’s an app for that! Help NASA by measuring snowpack. Credit: CSO

Oregon State University engineer David Hill says measurements taken by backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobile riders have proven valuable in lowering the error rate of computer simulations of the snowpack.

“Our initial model runs show that citizen science measurements are doing an amazing job of improving our simulations,” David said, who is collaborating with Alaska and University of Washington researchers. They received one of 16 NASA citizen science grants for the project.

“We want to turn the public into these mobile snow telemetry stations,” he said. “You just need a probe to do it.”

The measuring device can be as rudimentary as a yardstick, Hill said, but most people venturing into mountains already carry an avalanche probe, a 5- to 6-meter stick that folds down like a tent pole. After an avalanche, the probes are used to feel for buried people. Probes typically carry measurement markings.

NASA, snowpack, scientists, research, alaska, pnw, backcountry, skiers, measure
Any measuring device will do. Credit: CSO

The citizen snow-measuring program is called Community Snow ObservationsCitizen scientists measure snow depth with avalanche probes and load the information into a smartphone app, which records the location and sends the data to researchers.

NASA, snowpack, scientists, research, alaska, pnw, backcountry, skiers, measure
Citizen scientist! Credit: Gabriel Wolken/Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys via Associated Press

In the western states, according to NASA, nearly three-fourths of annual streamflow that provides drinking water comes from spring and summer melt, hence the concern over the initial dry start to the winter.


Related Articles

Got an opinion? Let us know...