Written by: Katreen Wikstrom Jones
It’s the time of the year when we put our skis on the shelf and bring our bikes outside for its premiere ride. Snow melt season up here in Alaska is also about two weeks early, which speeds up things a little. But before summer embraces us fully, we would like to reflect back on the 2017/2018 season and summarize the amazing second winter of the Community Snow Observations project!
Growing in numbers!
First off – THANK YOU to all of you who’ve volunteered your time and submitted snow depth measurements to MountainHub this winter! This winter the CSO project ripened from its prototype year into year one. Starting with a small group of skiers in Thompson Pass, the number of CSO participants has expanded to engaged individuals across western North America, and has now achieved a global reach. Compared to last year the number of measurements doubled, and grew steadily over the season with a clusters of measurements in particularly south-central Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Teton-area of Wyoming.
New ambassadors in the Pacific Northwest
The growing interest and participation among citizen scientists in the Pacific Northwest states made it redundantly clear that we needed to recruit ambassadors to represent CSO in the local areas. We welcomed James Molloy (Jackson, WY), Aaron Hartz (Bend, OR) and Liza Kimberly (Bellingham, WA) to join our ambassador program with previously Alaska-based ambassadors Sarah Carter (Valdez, AK), Bobby Liebermann (Anchorage, AK) and Mike Janes (Juneau, AK). Our ambassadors are our faces outward – and we’re incredibly grateful for their hard work of submitting data and promoting the project in their communities. To learn more about our awesome ambassadors, visit http://communitysnowobs.org/ambassadors/
CSO presence at Conferences & Workshops
In November, CSO staff attended the South-central Alaska Avalanche Workshop in Anchorage, Alaska, to engage with local avalanche practitioners and learn how snow depth observations in Mountain Hub can become part of their daily routine. In December, CSO presented their project at the American Geophysical Union conference in New Orleans in one of the citizen science sessions. Throughout the winter CSO staff and ambassadors also attended a number of smaller workshops and meetings with state, federal and private agencies and educational institutions with the goal to recruit citizen scientists and ensure that the data becomes accessible to them.
CSO Data Supporting Remote Sensing Surveys in Alaska
Snow depth observations submitted by citizen scientists are used to validate snow remote sensing products and snow depth distribution models produced by the CSO research team. CSO staff Gabe Wolken and Katreen Wikstrom Jones (Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys) conducted two spring snowpack airborne lidar surveys in south-central Alaska. The first one took place in Turnagain Pass on March 30th. CSO collaborated with avalanche forecasters from Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center and Professor Eeva Latosuo of Alaska Pacific University and her Snow Science students to have them submit snow depth measurements in the study area on the day of the survey. The second airborne lidar survey took place on April 8th in Thompson Pass. It was the fourth annual spring snowpack survey that DGGS has conducted in the area. Thanks to collaboration with Department of Transportation and Valdez Avalanche Center these studies have generated great participation on the ground for gathering data points as well as using the remote sensing products in the end. CSO staff and PhD student with Oregon State University, Ryan Crumley, also joined the efforts in Thompson Pass where he lead his second field campaign in collecting snow depth and snow water equivalence data. In this writing moment, he and David Hill (Oregon State University) are conducting measurements for their third campaign to capture end-of-season ablation. For primary results of Ryan’s hydrological modelling work, read his blog post on Mountain Hub here http://about.mountainhub.com/using-citizen-science-snow-depth-measurements-improve-snowpack-modeling/
CSO in the national news media
This was a great season for CSO when it comes to coverage in the news! Several Alaskan journals shared an article written by science writer Ned Rozell (University of Alaska Fairbanks) where he interviewed Gabe Wolken and promoted Alaskans to go out and contribute to the project. Journalist Dan Joling for AP News wrote a similar story with the title “Attention Backcountry Skiers: Scientists Want Your Help” that got picked up by several national newspapers, for example Washington Post and nationally recognized news sites like US News and ABC News, and also a video interview with the Seattle Channel (http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos?videoid=x90433). CSO also received attention within the more backcountry-focused audience: Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal shared an article written by CSO staff Dave Hill (http://ascentbackcountry.com/community-snow-observations-project/) and Protect Our Winters featured a story in their blog (https://protectourwinters.org/community-snow-observations/).
At last but not the least: WE RECEIVED CONTINUED FUNDING FROM NASA!
NASA announces in March that Community Snow Observations is one of six lucky projects that were selected for a three-year funding by their Citizen Science for Earth Science Program (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/new-citizen-science-projects-funded-for-earth-studies). At CSO we were delighted to hear that NASA found our project to be as important as we know it is. With continued funding, this means that the beautiful mission of CSO continues. We’ll continue to recruit volunteer citizen scientists to together gather data while recreating in the backcountry. As the CSO project moves forward, we will keep a data-driven approach to our selection of new study sites for the remote sensing and modeling work. We aim to broaden the pool of citizen scientists to ensure sustainable growth, collaborate with more snow and avalanche professionals to share critical results, and engage with other research groups to maximize the benefits of highly valuable crowdsourced data.
2017/2018 was an eventful season that left us very excited about what will happen next winter. At CSO, we look forward to our fall kick-off meeting in August where we’ll schedule events, contests and more. Until then we wish all of you a sunny, warm and healthy summer!