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Community Snow Obs Citizen Science - Knowing the Snow Before the Flow

All that water running off in those streams, have you ever thought much about where it comes from? For much of the country, stream headwaters lie in regions covered in snow in the winter time. This snow functions as a valuable storage reservoir, holding back winter precipitation and moderating its release through spring melt. If you live in a region that experiences snowfall, you can participate in a citizen science project that seeks to improve snowpack models and, in turn, improve models of streamflow.

The Community Snow Observations (CSO) project (@communitysnowobs), funded by NASA, seeks to develop a network of backcountry citizen scientists, who regularly submit snow depth measurements from snow environments. Snow data come from many sources including snow pillows and snow courses. These measurements are at ‘fixed’ locations that tend to be comparatively low in elevation. Backcountry (skiers, snowboarder, snowshoers, snowmobilers) users represent a unique data source in that they are ‘mobile’ (can report from many locations) and they go to higher regions, with more complex terrain, than snow pillow installations.

Participating in the CSO project is fast and easy. All that you need is a measuring device, your smart phone, and an app. Many backcountry users carry avalanche probes as part of their essential safety kit. If you don’t have an avalanche probe, any other ruled device (meter stick, tape measure attached to a ski pole, etc.) can be used. Users in the USA tend to use the Mtn Hub app (available for both iOS and Android devices). You can find tutorials at the CSO website that explain certain ‘best practices’ (terrain selection, etc.) that go into making effective measurements.

Bottom line is, it’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s incredibly valuable to snow science initiatives. So, next time you are out recreating in the snow and you drop your pack to shed a layer, log a measurement. Next time you pause to wait for your friend to catch up, log a measurement. If you happen to be the friend who’s being waited on, you’re probably winded; take a break and log a measurement. Check out CSO online (Instagram, Facebook) to see what sort of data products we produce and to learn about upcoming events. Get outside, stay safe, and help us grow our network of citizen snow scientists! And, when that snow melts, grab your CitSci app and start looking for those streams!

CSO project members reading snow depth using a tape measure fixed to a ski pole


CSO project member recording snow depth using an avalanche probe while exploring in the backcountry

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