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Snowpack Monitoring

Bentley snowflakeStudents are learning that there is more to snow than good snowballs by measuring the snowpack and its effect on plants, animals and people.

Students take snow pit measurements
Students take snow pit measurements



Instead of looking at the snow and thinking "it's cold, it's white and it's wet," lets dig deeper. When we start measuring characteristics of the snowpack and its effect on ecosystems and people, we find a fascinating world of chemistry and physics at work. People study snow because it affects our daily lives. Snow is a huge source of fresh water; it generates a tourism-based economy; it has the power to shut down cities and towns in a matter of hours; and it can be a dangerous force when combined with gravity to create an avalanche.

Snow is an ever changing medium for scientific study. We can observe the winter's weather history through the various snowpack layers and the degree of change in snow grains. From these observations we can calculate the amount of water available each year for homes, industry and agriculture. We can also better understand the risks of avalanches and minimize the impact of avalanches on transportation, homes, recreation and lives. By monitoring winter ecology, we can observe the busy lives of plants and animals on the forest floor who are under the protection and insulation of the snowpack. In addition, we can watch animals migrate, hibernate or change color to adapt to the changing snow environment.

Snow hides beauty and information in its depths. For students at Keystone Science School, snow represents a world of scientific questions with a different discovery around every turn in the trail and change in season.

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Bureau of Land ManagementUS Forest ServiceNational Park ServiceUS Fish and Wildlife ServiceEnvironmental Protection AgencyNational Oceanic & Atmospheric AdministrationDepartment of EducationNational Environmental Education Foundation
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