Press Release

Snow Science, Not Sport, In The Rockies

By SpaceRef Editor
February 15, 2002
Filed under , ,

This month, dozens of scientists on the ground, in the air and using
satellite observations will begin a multi-year experiment to study
winter snow packs on the Colorado side of the Rocky Mountains. The
purpose of this NASA-funded experiment is to improve the estimation of
snow amount and forecasting of spring flooding due to snowmelt, and to
study the role of cold lands within the Earth’s climate.

Scientists and students from six federal agencies and many universities
will be using skis, snowmobiles and aircraft to survey and sample snow
during this NASA Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX). They will also
use microwave measurements from satellites and aircraft to measure
characteristics of the snow pack and the freeze/thaw state of the land
surface.

The CLPX is a research mission concerned with frozen landscapes, where
water is frozen either seasonally or permanently because of water
stored in snow and ice cover. Cold land regions form an important
component of the Earth’s hydrologic cycle, and interact significantly
with water resources, global weather and climate.

Teams of scientists and technicians from three NASA facilities — the
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif.; and Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. —
will take part in this campaign. They will join scientists from the
NOAA/National Weather Service’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote
Sensing Center (NWS/NOHRSC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Region Research
and Engineering Lab, the U.S. Geological Survey, the USDA Agricultural
Research Service and graduate students from universities around the
world.

“We will be making intensive measurements of snow in Colorado’s
mountains and high-elevation rangelands, including digging hundreds of
snow pits to analyze snow water content, temperature and crystal
formation at different depths,” explained Don Cline, a scientist with
the NWS/NOHRSC who leads the CLPX. “We’ll use this information to
better understand the formation and evolution of snow packs, especially
the processes and timing of snowmelt. Observing the transitions in
snow, water and energy in such frozen landscapes will ultimately help
us design better sensors to measure the water content of snow from
space.”

Michael Jasinski, former manager of NASA’s Terrestrial Hydrology
Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, said, “The overall CLPX
objectives stem directly from NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Research
Strategy to address hydrologic variability and consequences of climate
and terrestrial change. Our ultimate goal is to improve prediction of
the hydrologic cycle and management of our nation’s water resources.”

The CLPX field campaign will employ two aircraft and measurements from
NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites to gather snow data by remote sensing.
The data gathered on the ground and from the aircraft will then be
compared to the information obtained by the satellites. Aqua is being
launched this year and will be operational for the 2003 campaign. By
determining the accuracy of the satellites and developing improved snow
sensors, researchers hope to someday be able to measure snow quantity
and frozen ground from space for the global views needed by forecast
models.

Dryden Flight Research Center will be flying its DC-8 “Airborne
Laboratory” with a variety of microwave imaging and other sensors. The
NWS/NOHRSC Airborne Snow Survey Program will also be flying similar
snow detection sensors on a NOAA aircraft. The experiment will be
conducted in the central Rocky Mountains where there is a wide array of
different terrain, snow, soil and ecological characteristics.
Background data collection for the experiment began in the fall of
2001. The first field campaign runs from February 19 to 25, to capture
cold land properties during mid-winter, and March 24 to 30, 2002, to
observe the same areas when the snow and ice begin to melt. This
schedule will then be repeated in 2003.

The mission is sponsored by the NASA Terrestrial Hydrology Program and
the Earth Observing System Program to address broad NASA Earth Science
Enterprise objectives in hydrology, water resources, ecology and
atmospheric sciences.

More information is available on the Internet at:

http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20020216coldland.html

http://www.nohrsc.nws.gov/~cline/clp.html

http://lshp.gsfc.nasa.gov

http://www.crrel.usace.army.mil

SpaceRef staff editor.