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.
The app records the location and time of the measurement and uploads the information. The program accounts for measurements in continental climate locations with light, dry snow or the wet, dense snow of maritime climates.
Snow telemetry stations maintained by the U.S. Agriculture Department are another important tool for measuring snow in high-elevation and other hard-to-access places, Hill said. The unmanned stations collect data using a system of automated sensors.
Initial measurements were made last winter in Alaska’s Thompson Pass north of Valdez, where other snow research was being conducted.
The citizen snow-measuring program, Community Snow Observations , aims to supplement that with people.
“We want to turn the public into these mobile snow telemetry stations,” he said. “You just need a probe to do it.”
“I recruited some of the folks from Valdez Avalanche Center. They brought friends along,” said Wolken, the Alaska research geologist. “That was our first go at getting sort of a grassroots, citizen science team.”
“He has results that basically show that the errors in our modeled snow-water equivalent are cut by about 90 percent with this input from public,” Hill said. “We’re thrilled about that.”
“You want to know when you actually find that person how deep they are,” Hill said. “They’re really just a big, long ruler.”