NASA-led research campaign on water begins in Colorado

U.S. Navy aircraft
U.S. Navy aircraft used in the SnowEx campaign / Christina Dawidowicz -- FOX21 News

PETERSON AFB, Colo. — NASA is leading SnowEx – a 5-year research campaign on snow.

“We know how much snow there is on the ground, we can see that from satellites, but we know nothing or too little about how much water is actually in that snow that’s on the ground,” said Frank McCormick, research program manager with the Forest Service Research and Development Rocky Mountain Research Station.

NASA has been observing snow from space for 50 years now, making it one of the longest records of measuring anything from space.

According to NASA, nearly 17 percent of the world’s population depends on seasonal snow for water.

In the western U.S, 75 percent of the water is supplied by spring and summer run off from mountain snow packs.

NASA says because there are limited ground snow water measurements available, stream flow predictions are not always accurate.

“Any snow satellite mission is going to measure snow globally, that’s what NASA is really trying to do, we’re trying to measure snow globally. We’re learning how to do it Colorado, but we’ll apply that globally with a satellite,” said Edward Kim, NASA project scientist for the SnowEx Project.

The first year of research takes place in western Colorado with an operations base on Peterson Air Force Base.

Ground research is in Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin with nearly a hundred scientists working above 10,000 feet.

Planes will measure snow-water equivalent in dry snow.

“Forests are really difficult for instruments to take these kinds of measurements from. And so, what they’re trying to do is work on instruments that are capable seeing through the trees a little bit better and getting information about that water in the snow,” McCormick said.

Year two will be used to analyze the data collected and determine where years three to 5 will take them next.

The research will help scientists make better decisions from water resources, water security and planning for natural hazards, including flooding and drought.

“Getting just the logistics alone was a major amount of work. Getting instruments on airplanes in a major amount of work too. We’ve been preparing for Snow Ex for over a year now and it’s been nonstop for a year,” Kim said.

The SnowEx research campaign is a collaborative effort with several organizations, including the U.S. Navy, U.S. Forest Service and scientists from universities and agencies across the U.S., Europe and Canada.

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