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Thursday August 16, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

The US space agency has turned its attention to snow & is leading efforts to work out exactly how much snow there is in the world

The project spearheaded by NASA is called SnowEx.

SnowEx has set out to measure how much snow cover there is on Earth.

It will test "new approaches for mapping snow water equivalent in forested regions and other areas."

What SnowEx really wants to know the answer to is:

How much water is stored in Earth's terrestrial snow-covered regions? 

= the water content of the snow.

The accurate water-content-of-snow data has been described as the 'Holy Grail' of global data collection.


First, there's the value of the water for agriculture around the world.

It is also a key factor in recording climate change.

- More extensive snow cover is seen as likely to slow global warming with heat reflected, whilst a smaller area with snow cover means more heat absorption. 

NASA intends to study the effectiveness of the different measurement techniques being tested at the two research sites with an aim to design a future space mission to accurately measure snow cover and its water content in real time, worldwide for the first time ever.

NASA snowNASA snow

NASA turns interest to snow depth - FISNASA turns interest to snow depth - FI

The project will look into the distribution of snow-water equivalent (SWE) as well as the snow energy balance in different canopy types and densities and terrain. 

To carry out this research and to determine the sensitivity and accuracy of different remote sensing techniques for measurement of SWE, SnowEx will use a combination of sensors, including:
  • LiDAR
  • active and passive microwave
  • an imaging spectrometer
  • infrared sensors
Ground-based instruments, snow field measurements and modeling will all also be required to answer the main question.

LiDAR has helped continue collecting data in the more challenging areas such as forests, which makes up a large fraction of snow-covered land.

"SnowEx is a little different than the typical science-only field campaign, and that's part of what makes it exciting!"


The project is already a-go.

A kickoff SnowEx workshop was held in summer 2015 in Columbia, MD. 

A second took place in Seattle, Washington, in March of 2016.

Following these workshops, the team has been working hard to collect information on sites, sensors and aircraft to study.

SnowEx is initially focusing on two research areas in Colorado and California to attempt to accurately measure the snow cover in both sites.

Many agencies will be involved in the project over several years.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

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