Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

SnowEx: Science Supporting Water Management

Dozens of scientists headed into Colorado’s high country by ski, snowshoe, snow machine, and aircraft in February 2017. The snow physicists, data experts, hydrologists, and others kicked off NASA’s multi-year SnowEx mission with its singular overarching goal: Figure out the most accurate, reliable way to measure the water content in snow—from space.

To support decisions around drinking water, agricultural water use, hydropower, and more, scientists need to better understand how much water the planet’s snowpack holds and when it may melt out. Eventually, NASA hopes to launch a global snowpack satellite, but first, scientists need to understand what kind of data water managers need and how to get those data. Under consideration are a slew of snowpack-targeting devices: Radar and lidar, microwave devices, thermal infrared cameras, and more.

CIRES’ Jeff Deems (with the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the Western Water Assessment) spent SnowEx in the Senator Beck Basin near Silverton, Colorado, making ground-based measurements before, after, and while instrumented aircraft zipped above their heads. They installed meteorological stations and dug snowpits, dragged around radar units, and used scanning lidar to help them assess data from airborne instruments. NSIDC will host and distribute SnowEx data sets.


Photos are from NASA/SnowEx and HP Marshall/Boise State University.

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CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

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