Spot on Science: NASA's SnowEx

DID YOU KNOW NEARLY 71 PERCENT OF THE EARTH’S SURFACE IS COVERED IN WATER? TALK ABOUT THE BLUE PLANET! THAT MIGHT SOUND LIKE A LOT BUT IF YOU WERE TO SUCK UP ALL OF THE WATER ON THE PLANET AND ROLL IT INTO A MARBLE IT’S NOT ACTUALLY THAT MUCH!

THIS BALL OF WATER HERE REPRESENTS THE VOLUME OF ALL EARTH’S WATER, INCLUDING WATER IN YOU, ME, PLANTS AND ANIMALS. VOLUME IS THE MEASURE OF SPACE THAT A SUBSTANCE TAKES UP. NOW THIS IS NOT ALL WATER THAT WE CAN DRINK.

IN THIS BALL IS THE LIQUID FRESH WATER ON EARTH, SO IT MIGHT BE IN THE GROUND OR IN RIVER, STILL NOT ALL OF THAT IS SAFE FOR US TO DRINK.

OH BUT SEE THIS TINY LITTLE BALL – THAT IS THE AMOUNT OF FRESH WATER IN LAKES AND RIVERS, IT IS OUR DRINKING WATER. NOT TOO MUCH TO SHARE HUH?

NOT ALL OF THAT DRINKABLE WATER IS LIQUID THOUGH. FOR US IN THE WINTER, THAT BLUE STUFF TURNS TO THE WHITE STUFF. NEARLY 30% OF THE EARTH’S LAND IS COVERED WITH SNOW AND IT PROVIDES A BIG NEED FOR DRINKING WATER. IN FACT, MORE THAN 1.2 BILLION PEOPLE RELY ON CLEANED WATER FROM SNOW OR GLACIERS TO LIVE.

AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE MEASURING JUST HOW MUCH OF THIS PRECIOUS RESOURCE WE HAVE IS A BIG AND DIFFICULT TASK. BUT WE’VE PUT OUR BEST TO THE TEST. THIS WINTER, SCIENTISTS FROM NASA HAVE BEEN IN THE SKIES AND IN THE FIELD FINDING THE BEST WAY TO MEASURE THE VOLUME OF SNOW.

THEIR MISSION IS CALLED SNOWEX. IN THE PAST, NASA USED SATELLITES TO TELL HOW MUCH SNOW WAS FALLING, BUT TO GET A BETTER READING THEY ARE NOW HITTING THE GROUND. THE SCIENTIST USE SNOW SENSORS IN AIRPLANES AND EQUIPMENT ON THE GROUND TO MEASURE THE DEPTH AND VOLUME OF SNOW.

THE INFORMATION THEY GATHER WILL HELP THEM FORECAST HOW MUCH WATER FROM THE SNOW WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR DRINKING, GROWING FOOD OR USING IN BUSINESSES. 60 MILLION PEOPLE IN AMERICA DEPEND ON THIS WATER.

SO YEAH IT IS A BIG AND CHILLY TASK, FOR THE SCIENTISTS – BUT THINK OF IT THIS WAY – FOR THEM, EVERY DAY IS A SNOW DAY!

Instructional Links

Website: NASA, Snow, Snow as a Vital Link in the Hydrologic Cycle | Includes link to NASA SnowEX research & campaign site.

Animation, NASA, Global Maps, Snow Cover | Shows snow cover changes from 2009-2016.

Website Article: US Department of Agriculture, What is Snow Water Equivalent?

Interactive Site, vCalc, Snow Water Equivalent | Math of how to calculate snow water equivalent including volume.

Website Article: Math Is Fun, Definition of Volume | Includes interactive example.

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