“It would be, I would say, a monumental leap in our ability to forecast water supply if we had this kind of information.” -Noah Molotch

A NASA-led experiment called SnowEx has started to survey the Colorado high country using five aircraft to test 10 sensors that might one day be used to monitor snow from satellites. The aim of the operation is to find the ideal combination to overcome multiple obstacles, including how to analyze snow hidden beneath forest canopies as reported by AP News.

Aircraft will use the instruments during multiple flyovers above two areas in western Colorado, Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin. Crews on the ground will also analyze the snow to verify how accurate the instruments are.

To accurately measure snow from satellites an array of different sensors will be used:

-Two SnowEx sensors will measure snow depth: Radar and LIDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging. LIDAR uses laser pulses to measure distance.

-Four sensors will measure snow density: three other types of radar, plus a passive microwave instrument, which detects how much of the Earth’s natural microwave radiation the snow is blocking.

-Two thermal infrared sensors will measure temperature.

-A hyperspectral imager and a multispectral imager will measure how much sunlight the snow is reflecting, which helps determine how fast it will melt.

While our audience loves snow info on a recreational level, we should remember that one-sixth of the world’s population gets most of its fresh water from snow that melts and accurately measuring snow levels is vital important on a humanitarian level. Ed Kim, a NASA researcher and lead scientist for SnowEx commented, “Right there, it’s hugely important for people.”

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[images from  AP News]