Some backcountry skiers and snowboarders are not just hitting the slopes. They’re measuring how deep the snow is and sending the data to climate scientists.
“Data is lacking in mountain areas across the globe and particularly in western North America,” says Gabriel Wolken of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “And if we don’t have a better understanding of how snow is distributed in these areas, we have a limited amount of baseline data to evaluate changes in the future.”
Wolken says melting mountain snow feeds rivers and lakes through the spring, summer, and fall. So understanding and predicting changes in the snowpack is important for managing water supplies.
But collecting data is time-consuming. So five years ago, when Wolken and other researchers were working in Alaska, they asked a local ski club for help.
“We gave them GPS and of course they all had avalanche probes in their backpacks,” Wolken says. “And we said, ‘OK, go out and sample as much as you can.’”
The effort was a success, and soon the NASA-funded Community Snow Observations project was born. Now, thousands of volunteers from around the world have submitted observations – serving science while they’re out having fun.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee/ChavoBart Digital Media.