Using Citizen Science Snow Depth Measurements to Improve Snowpack Modeling

The NASA-funded Community Snow Observations (CSO) project is using snow depth measurements collected by citizen scientists using the Mountain Hub to improve snow modeling. Snow models use data from weather stations and landscape characteristics to estimate snowpack quantities during the winter and melt it away when the weather gets warmer in spring and summer. Scientists’ ability to accurately predict snow depths, and the amount of water in the snowpack, is dependent upon monitoring snowpack conditions as they change throughout the year.

Since most mountainous areas are difficult to access, scientists need a little help and are hoping that citizen scientists (that’s you) will help fill the data gap. Snow depth measurements collected by CSO participants will allow scientists to monitor snowpack conditions more effectively, and increase the accuracy of modeled results. The initial results from CSO study area in Alaska are very promising! The CSO science team chose an area near Valdez used frequently by snowmobilers and backcountry skiers, which includes the famed Thompson Pass. Last year the CSO team received hundreds of snow depth measurements from CSO participants using the Mountain Hub within the study area.

CSO scientists ran the model hundreds of times to make sure they had it ‘tuned-in’ to local environmental conditions. Then, they selected the best model run to integrate the measurements from CSO participants.

The Takeaway: The model results using citizen scientist observations of snow depth greatly improved the accuracy of the snow model when compared to a highly-trusted dataset called Snotel, which includes precise measurements of actual snow depths at specific locations.

Going forward, the CSO science team is developing methods to quickly and accurately integrate CSO participants’ snow depth observations into the modeling process, and they hope to apply these methods to additional study sites in locations around the globe.

Get involved in the Community Snow Observations project and help snow scientists help you!


Image 1: A map of the study area near Valdez, Alaska. The markers show the locations of each of the observations collected by CSO participants during the 2016-2017 snow season.


Image 2: The above image shows simulated snow depth within the Thompson Pass study area on April 30th, 2017, but it does not have any citizen science observations integrated into the modeling process.



Image 3: Snow depth on April 30th, 2017 after citizen science observations have been integrated into the modeling process.