This month, dozens of scientists on the ground, in the air and using satellite observations will begin a multi-year experiment to study winter snow packs on the Colorado side of the Rocky Mountains. The purpose of this NASA-funded experiment is to improve the estimation of snow amount and forecasting of spring flooding due to snowmelt, and to study the role of cold lands within Earth's climate.
Kyle McDonald, a research scientist in the terrestrial science research element at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will be among the scientists and students from six federal agencies and many universities that will be using skis, snowmobiles and aircraft to survey and sample snow during this NASA Cold Land Processes Experiment. They will also use microwave measurements from satellites and aircraft to measure characteristics of the snow pack and the freeze/thaw state of the land surface.
The Cold Land Processes Experiment is a research mission concerned with frozen landscapes, where water is frozen either seasonally or permanently because of water stored in snow and ice cover. Cold land regions form an important component of Earth's hydrologic cycle and interact significantly with water resources, global weather and climate.
McDonald will lead an effort to establish a field station to monitor and record data on the temperature and sap flow of different species of trees. The data will be correlated with ground-based and satellite remote sensing measurements from spaceborne radar such as the Seawinds scatterometer on the JPL-managed Quick Scatterometer spacecraft—also known as Quikscat—to develop techniques for remotely monitoring the start of the growing season in cold climates.
"Data from this experiment will help NASA better understand the processes that govern the exchange of carbon dioxide between the land and atmosphere in forested ecosystems located in cold regions," said McDonald. "In doing so, we’ll be better able to quantify how cold weather ecosystems are impacted by climate changes."
In addition to JPL, teams of scientists and technicians from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., will take part in this campaign. They will join scientists from the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service; the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Region Research and Engineering Lab; the U.S. Geological Survey; the USDA Agricultural Research Service and graduate students from universities around the world.
"We will be making intensive measurements of snow in Colorado's mountains and high-elevation rangelands, including digging hundreds of snow pits to analyze snow water content, temperature and crystal formation at different depths," explained Don Cline, a scientist with the National Weather Service who leads the experiment. "We'll use this information to better understand the formation and evolution of snow packs, especially the processes and timing of snowmelt. Observing the transitions in snow, water and energy in such frozen landscapes will ultimately help us design better sensors to measure the water content of snow from space."
Michael Jasinski, former manager of NASA's Terrestrial Hydrology Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington D.C., said, "The overall Cold Land Processes Experiment objectives stem directly from NASA's Earth Science Enterprise Research Strategy to address hydrologic variability and consequences of climate and terrestrial change. Our ultimate goal is to improve prediction of the hydrologic cycle and management of our nation's water resources."
The experiment’s field campaign will employ two aircraft and measurements from NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites to gather snow data by remote sensing. The data gathered on the ground and from the aircraft will then be compared to the information obtained by the satellites. Aqua is being launched this year and will be operational for the 2003 campaign. By determining the accuracy of the satellites and developing improved snow sensors, researchers hope to someday be able to measure snow quantity and frozen ground from space for the global views needed by forecast models.
Dryden Flight Research Center will be flying its DC-8 "Airborne Laboratory" with a variety of microwave imaging and other sensors. The National Weather Service’s Airborne Snow Survey Program will also be flying similar snow detection sensors on a NOAA aircraft to capture cold land properties during mid-winter. The experiment will be conducted in the central Rocky Mountains where there is a wide array of different terrain, snow, soil and ecological characteristics. Background data collection for the experiment began in the fall of 2001. The first field campaign runs from February 19 to 25 and March 24 to 30, 2002, to observe the same areas when the snow and ice begin to melt. This schedule will then be repeated in 2003.
The mission is sponsored by the NASA Terrestrial Hydrology Program and the Earth Observing System Program to address broad NASA Earth Science Enterprise objectives in hydrology, water resources, ecology and atmospheric sciences.
More information is available at: http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20020216coldland.html http://www.nohrsc.nws.gov/~cline/clp.html http://lshp.gsfc.nasa.gov http://www.crrel.usace.army.mil http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/quikscat/quikindex.html
JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
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