Why Our Project Matters

stream through snow in mountains

Snow is an essential, life-sustaining part of the water cycle.

When snow falls in the mountains it forms a natural reservoir, storing water in the winter and then releasing it gradually through the summer melt season.

You may have wondered why mountain streams continue to flow throughout the dry summer months. Usually they are fed by snow and ice stored high above during the previous winter.

Everything living downstream of mountain snowpacks depends on water provided by melting snow.

Salmon are very sensitive to stream conditions that are directly controlled by water from melting snow. Many different plants thrive on the nutrients carried by snow melt water.

Humans also rely on snowpacks for a variety of reasons. Snowpacks provide a slow release of water to refill streams, lakes, aquifers and reservoirs, and help sustain these critical freshwater sources during dry periods. Human activities can be disrupted when snow creates hazards through rapid melting or avalanches.

streamside in winter
scientists coring snow

We have a lot of ground to cover.

Given how important snow is for fish, wildlife, recreation and human activity, it’s no surprise that scientists work hard to figure out just how much snow has landed on the ground.

We use shovels and snow probes, but covering the vast Alaska landscape this way is not possible. Fortunately we can also measure snow from aircraft or from satellites (remote sensing), which gives us big-picture estimates of snow cover and depth. And, we can use computer simulations to predict snow conditions based on atmospheric conditions.

While remote sensing and computer models are very useful, they have their own limitations.

Many remote sensing methods, because they are collected so far out in space, do not have the fine detail needed for may applications.

Remote sensing methods also perform poorly when there is water in the snow. Computer models require measurements of atmospheric conditions such as temperature and humidity, which are not always available in mountain regions.

The accuracy of these models increases dramatically when we know more about how much and where the snow has accumulated.

globe with snow

This is where you come in. Be a community scientist!

measuring in a snowpit
kids measuring snow
probing snow from a snowmachine
making a snow measurement

The power of community science is that all of us together can make many more measurements than any one person or any scientific team.

We can cover more ground together, and we need your help! Using the Snow Scope or the CitSci smartphone apps, you can make snow-depth measurements as you travel.

Or, you can record measurements in the field and then submit them from your home computer using SnowPilot.

Then we analyze the data, integrate it into our models and remote sensing products, and share the results back to the community.