Winters of Change
Mountain Hub is Aiding Climate Research, And You Can Help!
Climate and Snowpack are Changing…
Feeling overwhelmed or hopeless would be a natural reaction when pondering the looming threat of climate change and the vast amount of research needed to better understand this problem. Mountain Hub is setting out to change all that by empowering its community members to become Citizen Scientists. By uploading snowpack observations to Mountain Hub, our users can directly benefit the quest of many scientists and organizations working on climate research. The time to act is now, and with Mountain Hub, you can help!
In a groundbreaking move, Mountain Hub has teamed up with the NASA Community Snow Observations project (CSO) and forged partnerships with the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys, United States Geological Survey, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Oregon State University, and the University of Washington. The NASA CSO will capture snowpack data submitted by Mountain Hub users to help scientists better understand and model the impacts of climate change. By relying on the huge potential of the Mountain Hub community to collect enormous amounts of snowpack data, the CSO can directly benefit scientists and boost critical research in this rapidly changing field.
A few years back, at a snow science conference in Banff, Mountain Hub Co-Founder, Brint Markle, got to scheming with Doctor Gabriel Wolken, of the Climate and Cryosphere Hazards Program of the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. After recently being awarded a grant from NASA, Gabe approached Brint to discuss using the technology of Mountain Hub to crowdsource the snowpack data collection for the benefit of many scientists and institutions.
We sat down with Dr. Gabe to gain insight into his inspiration for tackling this project and his hopes for the future of climate research.
Gabe, first thing’s first: what is your favorite way to play in the mountains?
I enjoy skiing, mountaineering, and climbing.
How does your passion for outdoor recreation manifest itself in your work?
My passion for the outdoors guided me to where I am today. Skiing and mountaineering allowed me to develop a strong interest in snow, ice, and climate. This led me to pursue graduate degrees in glaciology and climatology. I’ve been fortunate in simultaneously following my passion for outdoor recreation and blending it with a love for science. I now focus my time on studying changes in snow and glaciers.
What are you presently working on?
My group is working on a number of interesting projects to investigate changes in snow, ice, and permafrost. One of the most exciting new projects we are working on is the NASA CSO project. The goal of the NASA Community Snow Observations (CSO) project is to achieve a better understanding of snow depth variability and the patterns of change over time in mountainous regions. We recognize that we cannot do this as a small scientific team, so we aim to recruit a population of community snow observers (Citizen Scientists) to help us make many more snowpack measurements than any one person or scientific team could accomplish.
How will you activate the Citizen Scientists to get them involved in the NASA CSO?
Snowpack data collected by NASA CSO Citizen Scientists will be used to help us validate measurements we make from aircraft and satellites, and to create better snow distribution and runoff models, which we will be able to share with the community. The NASA CSO Citizen Scientists will vastly improve our understanding of snow avalanche hazards, water resources, and the impacts of a changing climate on snowfall.
What has been the impact of climate change on mountain snowpack depth?
In evaluating how snowfall and changes to snowpack depth have been impacted by climate change, we simply do not have enough data to answer this question now. What we do know is that snow extent has been decreasing in North America since about 1980, and that the seasonal duration of snow cover on the landscape has decreased, i.e. the timing of melt onset has been occurring earlier in the year.
We need more data to evaluate how snowpack depth is changing to help improve our snow distribution models. This is where Mountain Hub users and the CSO can lend support to the scientific community.
How did you conceive of the idea to use Mountain Hub to help with your critical data collection?
I met the Mountain Hub Co-Founder, Brint Markle, at an International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW) in Banff a few years back. We found ourselves discussing the problems of sparse snow data in North America, with an especial dearth of info for Alaska. This led to a dreamy discussion of a crowdsourced approach to snow science. When I reconnected with Brint about the NASA Citizen Science grant opportunity, he was all-in and extremely supportive. The idea of expanding on the local Citizen Science activities I’ve been drumming up in Alaska fueled a partnership with Mountain Hub.
How will Mountain Hub’s partnership with CSO directly benefit your work in conducting climate modeling and research?
Originally, I worked with a small team of scientists making manual measurements each season. Over time, this effort morphed into a grassroots, community-based Citizen Science approach where local community members and members of the Valdez Avalanche Center began helping us with end-of-winter, single-day snowpack measurements. The number of total measurements has increased each year. We’re ready to take it to the next level with Mountain Hub users.
Partnering up with Mountain Hub’s community will enable us to move towards a technology driven, crowdsourced, global data collection platform that will facilitate real-time data sharing, and ultimately, assist scientists in sharing their findings back with the community. The more data we have, the better science we can conduct. The questions and challenges surrounding changing climate are huge and it’s an incredible opportunity for anyone to step up and feel as though they can make a difference.
In looking to the future, we are interested in developing a global mountain snow depth dataset – anyone, anytime, anywhere – Citizen Scientists would be able to submit an observation where there is snow on the ground. We’ll be starting with data in Alaska and hopefully expanding beyond this area soon!
Who can participate in this CSO Citizen Science Project and how can anyone contribute data?
Anyone can participate!
All that is required is undisturbed snow, the Mountain Hub app on your smartphone, and a snow probe with graduated markings. That is the beauty of this program. Nearly anyone can participate and make a meaningful contribution to climate research.
Are you seeing any trends or patterns with the data you’ve already collected?
Yes. The snow depth data that Citizen Scientists have already contributed has been used to validate the remote sensing products we develop. We are seeing interesting patterns of snow depth variability, changes in the total amount of snow water equivalence from year to year, and its impact on avalanche incidence.
How do you see the project expanding beyond Alaska?
We hope to expand the program worldwide. I’m eager to see where the Citizen Science data will be collected as we inform the community of the opportunity to contribute. To a certain extent, we need to let the Citizen Science data drive where we take the project and where we focus our climate research.
Will your partnership with Mountain Hub and NASA help to inform the global scientific community?
Absolutely. First, this is a NASA-funded research project – we are able to develop the CSO because of funding from NASA and through our partnership with Mountain Hub. Mountain Hub is an amazing company with a fantastic mission. I think this is just the beginning of an exciting and mutually beneficial relationship. With Mountain Hub and Citizen Scientists we can begin to reduce uncertainties, and start to answer some of the biggest questions about the impacts of climate change on mountain regions.
Thanks Gabe, we look forward to participating in the NASA CSO, and will continue to update the community about how their data is helping climate research!