SnowSchool’s NASA SnowEx Project Launches in Colorado

As the 2020 winter approaches, educators and snow scientists in Colorado are gearing up for a unique SnowSchool project.  This year as SnowSchool students romp through fresh powder on snowshoes and participate in fun experiential activities, they also have a special opportunity to collect snowpack measurements and send their findings to NASA scientists.  Thanks to a new partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s SnowEx program,  SnowSchool is excited to add a citizen science element that will allow students to play a role in helping scientists do the important work of measuring and monitoring mountain snowpack!  The goals of the project are to get students excited about being outside in the winter, help them learn more about the field of snow science, and make real contributions to ongoing research.  During an early November field workshop near Nederland CO, National SnowSchool Director Kerry McClay, worked with a team of snow scientists, SnowSchool educators and volunteers to help prepare everyone involved for this unique opportunity.  The workshop blended traditional SnowSchool activities with new NASA SnowEx citizen science activities to measure snowpack depth and density (water content).

Despite the early season conditions the SnowSchool team was able to find a drift of snow near the Eldora Nordic Center to practice collecting depth and density measurements for the SnowEx project.

The ultimate goal of the SnowEx mission is to, one day, launch a satellite that will measure the amount of snow (and water in that snow) on our planet at any given time. During 2020 NASA will be flying aircraft across portions Colorado, California, Utah and Idaho to test out new instruments utilizing LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, to scan the snowpack.  As scientists conduct tests with their instruments, NASA needs people on the ground—citizen scientists—to hand-collect data from the snowpack that can be used to verify the SnowEx results. Those citizen scientists are SnowSchool students!  Any SnowSchool site, school or student in the SnowEx flight path can participate (see map bel0w).  Orange and blue boxes on the map below show the SnowEx flight paths.  Orange indicates the top priority zones.

Fifty to 80 percent of the water that we use in the West comes from the seasonal snowpack. One out of six people in the world rely on the snowpack and glaciers for their water resources. Snow is fundamental to winter recreation, which generates $20.3 billion in the U.S. economy. The snowpack also reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s energy, which is a vital process to regulate global temperatures.  These statistics help illustrate why scientists and hydrologists need to measure the snowpack and how much water it holds.

SnowSchool has long been a bridge to connect students with the outdoors and the fascinating world of snow science! Want to get involved in this year’s NASA SnowEx project? Here’s how-

  • Check out the map above to see where SnowEx is happening in Colorado and if your location is in the flight path
  • Visit the NASA SnowEx / SnowSchool landing page to learn more, see the curriculum resources and find out how to collect data and send it to NASA scientists
  • Start collecting data! SnowEx flights are Jan – May 2020 and snowpack data can be collected anytime during that window. Questions? Email kmcclay@winterwildlands.org
  • In the spring we will wrap-up the project with presentations, videos and webinars for students that explain what happened this winter and the SnowEx project results!