Snow Education’s North Star: SnowEd Alaska and SnowSchool team up to create national impact
By Kerry McClay, National SnowSchool Director
Photo by JR Ancheta (University of Fairbanks – Alaska)
This write-up was originally featured in our Spring 2023 Trail Break issue.
Over the last five years, the NASA SnowEx campaign has been flying aircraft over America’s wild snowscapes with the goal of improving remote snow sensing technology. Designed to lay the groundwork for a future snow sensing satellite, the campaign also has an outreach component that encourages public education and collaboration. In March of 2023, the final leg of the SnowEX campaign will take place in Alaska, with NASA flying aircraft and collecting snowpack data over boreal forests and frozen tundra. As snow scientists conduct tests with the latest airborne snow sensing instruments, people across the country have access to unique NASA-funded snow science education platforms to learn more about snow and even collect real snowpack data to help inform and improve NASA scientists’ snowpack models.
In Alaska, a “SnowEd” team, composed of Serina Wesen and Matthew Sturm, is working to advance snow education across their state during this final year of SnowEx. Wesen is the education and outreach designer for the Geophysical Institute’s Snow, Ice and Permafrost Group at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Sturm is a snow scientist and geophysics professor at the University of Alaska. The upcoming campaign has heightened public awareness of snow science in the state, giving the team a platform to inspire, develop and spread new snow education resources across Alaska and beyond. These resources include new education kits designed to help students and teachers explore snow science and Alaska Native culture, an online platform for educational snow science activities, and in-person snow education events.
Through collaboration with Winter Wildlands Alliance’s SnowSchool, the positive impact of Serina and Matthew’s work continues to resonate across Alaska and into the lower 48 states. SnowSchool is a national education program that last year engaged 32,000 kids and students nationally. By sharing the newly created resources by the SnowEd team, SnowSchool is able to deliver real science to thousands of kids and teachers in dozens of communities across the snowbelt.
Recently, WWA SnowSchool and the SnowEd team collaborated to create several instructional videos for kids, including a video exploring the 6-sided shape of atmospheric snow crystals. This was a particularly relevant topic as snow crystal shapes are explored by both the SnowEd snow science kits and the SnowSchool curriculum. Topics for future videos will include the temperature of snow/water, snow water equivalent and snowpack depth.
Get involved! Winter Wildlands Alliance’s SnowSchool and snow scientists everywhere are calling for students, educators, and the general public to collect and submit citizen science data to help advance the entire field of snow science! Two NASA- funded citizen snow science projects are easy ways for people to submit valuable data: Community Snow Observations (communitysnowobs.org) calls citizen scientists to measure the depth of their snow, and Mountain Rain or Snow (rainorsnow.org) calls observers to visually track precipitation.