T-26: Snow from the Ground and Space

Snow is vital for Earth’s ecosystems and humans. It regulates temperature by reflecting sunlight and acts as insulation. When it melts in the springtime, it produces life-giving water. Snow provides freshwater for drinking, agriculture and hydropower for about one billion people worldwide. In order to dig deeper into snow, NASA and its partners teamed up for SnowEx, a field campaign in the western United States that takes coordinated measurements on the ground and in the air to compare how well different instruments work in different conditions.

Now, the team is expanding: Researchers are looking at snow depth and how the different physical properties of snow affect the snow water equivalent (SWE), or the amount of liquid water in a snowpack. Using measurements from ICESat-2 in space, SnowEx researchers are looking at snow depth in some of the study regions to see how the data compares at larger scales.

This is a “photon cloud.” Each dot in the figure represents the latitude, longitude, and height of a photon detected by ICESat-2. The thick line through the middle of the figure is composed of thousands of individual photons reflected off the Earth’s surface, while the dots above and below the surface are background photons from the sun.