Despite the unpleasant end to the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere due to COVID-19 pandemic, and that left many of us asking “To go or not to go into the backcountry?”, there were many wonderful things that happened to the Community Snow Observations project during the winter of 2019/2020.
Lots of new snow observations!
First: we received a lot of new data! From November 1, 2019, to April 30, 2020, 3348 (!) snow depth observations were submitted to CSO via our partnering platforms (Mountain Hub: 728, Snow Pilot: 1025, CitSci.org: 154, Reg Obs: 1441) and from 824 individual users worldwide (Fig 1). The largest concentration of snow depth observations were submitted in February and early March, and most measurements were made below 1000 m a s l and were less than 200 cm in depth (Fig 2).
New team members
Our team has recently expanded with the addition of two inspiring, talented and hard-working people: Nina Aragon and Emilio Mayorga. Welcome!
Nina Aragon is a PhD student and graduate fellow at Oregon State University where her research focuses on alpine snow and snow-derived water resources. She is particularly interested in understanding the ways in which snow dynamically links together human, ecological, and hydrological systems in a changing climate. Her prior research focused on large-scale meteorology related to extreme precipitation over the Pacific Northwest, climate model evaluation, and projected changes in freezing levels.
Nina draws from years of backcountry experience assessing avalanche conditions and riding big mountains. In her role on our team, she is currently working to expand our modeling efforts to new domains by automating the assimilation of citizen science snow depth measurements into a spatially distributed snow evolution modeling system. She is excited to support a grassroots movement of citizen scientists and to use citizen science to improve our understanding of the distribution of snow in alpine environments.
Emilio is an environmental data scientist at the University of Washington, with a science background in biogeochemistry, hydrology and oceanography. He joined the CSO team this year, helping to implement improvements in data management and data access, reproducible data processing, and enhanced capabilities for analyzing snow observations and model output.
Outreach and presentations
2019/2020 was another active year for outreach. We successfully reached a more diversified audience by trying out new forums and venues to talk about snow and why it’s important to all of us. Things started off early with a podcast (episode 6) with SciStarter.org in late summer. In October and November, we presented at a couple of Snow and Avalanche Workshops (SAWs) in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, including WYSAW in Wyoming and SAAW in Alaska. Professionals in the snow and avalanche community collect snow depth data on a frequent basis in the backcountry; these folks are not only a great resource for data collection (blink blink) but they could also particularly benefit from our modeling products and potentially find them useful to their daily operational forecasting in the future.
We had great representation at the annual American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in December and presented results of our modeling efforts in two different posters.
In addition to scientific conferences, throughout the winter season we were invited to give more informal talks at venues across the United States, including “Science on Tap” in Vancouver, Washington (Fig. 3), Science Pub Talks in Portland, Eugene and Bend, Oregon, a pub talk organized by 500 Women Scientists in Corvallis, Oregon, and “Fireside Chat” talks at Eagle Crest Ski Area and Mendenhall Visitor Center in Juneau, Alaska.
Towards the end of the season, and in the spirit of the pandemic and home-schooling, CSO was invited to give a virtual lecture at National Geographic’s online “Explorer Classroom” geared towards children 9-13 years old. This was a great success and we received some lovely feedback afterwards (Fig. 4).
Our ambassadors continued doing a great job in promoting the project in their arenas and local backcountry areas, as well as via their social media channels! Learn more about our ambassadors.
We established a new partnership with the NASA SnowEx research team to assist them in their snow data collection campaigns in the Tahoe Lake region, California. Through social media, we encouraged our pool of citizen scientists to collect snow observations in the SnowEx study areas throughout the winter (Fig. 5).
We established new partnerships within the education community through collaboration with Winter Wildlands Alliance (a.k.a Snow School) in Idaho, NatureBridge in Yosemite, and NOLS in the Teton Valley. These schools started having their instructors incorporate CSO into their curriculum and collect snow depth data with their students. We continue to realize how applicable CSO is for teachers who are looking for fun projects to engage their students!
Thanks to continued support and generous donations from our sponsors, we were able to continue organizing incentivized data collection contests during the 2019/2020 season. We announced these contests via our social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
We organized four contests, starting with the “SAAW2019” contest (sponsor: REI, Mammut) in November-December 2019, “Solstice Swag Hunt” contest (sponsor: Backcountry Access) in December-January, “Prez’s Day Week” contest (sponsor: Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal) in February, and “Couch Potato Photo Contest” (sponsor: Backcountry Access, Mizu) in April.
Publications and media
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their Special Report on The Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, and cited CSO as an example of a project that uses citizen science data to fill in knowledge gaps of temporal and spatial distribution of snow cover. Given the importance and broad application of IPCC’s reports for nations’ governments in their environmental policies and decision-making, we were pleased to receive this recognition and the attention that it brings to the project.
There are clear knowledge gaps in the distribution and characteristics of cryospheric variables, in particular the extent and ice content of permafrost in mountains, but also current glacier ice volumes, trends in lake and river ice, and the spatial and temporal variation of snow cover.
These knowledge gaps persist despite a wealth of new data since AR5 especially from Earth observation satellites, which overcome much of the remoteness and inaccessibility of high mountains yet still face challenges for observations in mountains such as dealing with cloud cover and rugged terrain.
Along with improved capacities to generate and integrate diverse observation data, initiatives such as citizen science or Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge can also complement some observations that are based on conventional instruments and models.
—IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Ch. 2: High Mountain Areas
The 2019/2020 season showed continuous interest and coverage of our project in media around the globe, including:
- Powder Magazine
- Yale Climate Connections
- Daily Sitka Sentinel
- New Zealand Avalanche Dispatch
- Statesman Journal
With our team member Ryan Crumley completing his PhD thesis at Oregon State University and our new team member, Nina Aragon, there has been some great progress on the modeling side of CSO. Ryan’s research has focused on improving the modeling of snow water equivalence (SWE) in remote, mountainous terrain by incorporating CSO measurements to adjust the snow depths generated by the hydrological model, SnowModel. He has focused on a study domain in Thompson Pass, Alaska, and he validated the results against ground-truth data from a Snow Telemetry weather station and snow depths derived from airborne remote sensing technology. Ryan is still active on the team and is currently working on a paper submission to a scientific journal that summarizes his methods and findings. A separate blog post on this will come soon!
We have now expanded our modeling efforts to new domains in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Our selection approach of new domains is primarily data-driven; a way for us to show our citizen scientists that their participation is in deed important, and we’d love to give something back. Evidently, for us it also makes the most sense to model snow depth and SWE in areas where we have a lot of ground-truth (snow) data. Nina is currently modeling snow depth and SWE for a study domain in the Tetons, Wyoming (Fig. 9). If you live in this area, help her out by submitting snow observations to us next winter!
The CSO website is continuously updated to streamline usage and data download performance. Users can now filter the data by time period, depth, elevation, area of interest (by drawing a polygon), and data source. In the analytics, the user can view a data summary, graphs of snow depth vs elevation and snow depth vs time of year, as well as a table with all the data in their inquiry.
Over the summer our team will focus on further improvements to the website and its usability. We would be very grateful to receive feedback from you in order to meet your expectations! Please contact us with any comments or suggestions you may have.
At last, we would like to THANK ALL OF YOU for your continuous support of the Community Snow Observations project! Whether you submit snow depth measurements on a regular basis, talk about CSO amongst your friends or just follow us on social media, you are all part of this community. We look forward to chat with you at various venues in the fall, on the skin-track next winter or anytime until then via email!
Have a healthy and active summer!