NOAA 2003-016
Contact: Kent Laborde
NOAA News Releases 2003
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A team of scientists and students from six federal agencies and many universities, led by NOAA and NASA, will study the snowpacks of the Colorado Rockies from the ground, air and space this winter and spring to improve forecasts of springtime water supply and snowmelt floods and to study how snow-cover affects the Earth’s weather and climate.

The 2003 Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX) runs from February 19-25 and March 25-31. It will be conducted in the central Rocky Mountains of the western United States, where there is a wide array of different terrain, snow, soil and ecological characteristics. Jointly sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, CLPX is a research mission concerned with frozen landscapes, where water is frozen either seasonally or permanently.

“We’ll use the information derived from this project to better understand the formation and evolution of snowpacks, especially the processes involving the timing of snowmelt,” said Don Cline, a NOAA scientist at NOAA National Weather Service’s (NOAA Weather Service) National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center and leader of CLPX. “Measurements from last year’s survey have already been extremely useful for helping us understand how to update water and weather forecast models with observed snow information.”

Cline pointed out that over 60 scientists will be collecting snow data on the ground, and a Turbo Commander aircraft from NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center will gather snow data from the air using the GAMMA sensor used by the NOAA Weather Service Airborne Snow Survey Program. Three NASA aircraft will be carrying a variety of radar and radiometer sensors, including a sensor developed by NOAA’s Environmental Technology Laboratory.

Further studies will help design better sensors to measure the water content of snow from space. In the future, new remote sensing measurements coupled with water and weather forecast models should improve prediction of water supplies, floods, weather and climate.

“The primary goal of CLPX is to determine the best methods of finding the liquid water equivalent of snow using remote sensing techniques,” said Jared Entin, manager of NASA’s Terrestrial Hydrology Program. Entin said that remote sensing of snow is a challenge because different techniques are required for wet and dry snow.

Cold land regions from a major component of the Earth’s hydrologic system. This is the second year of intensive snow measurements in Colorado’s mountains and high-elevation rangelands. A major advance in this year’s mission is the inclusion of several advanced satellite and airborne sensors to determine the best ways to conduct remote sensing of the global cryosphere.

Dozens of scientists will be using skis, snowmobiles and aircraft to survey and sample snow during the CPLX field experiment. They will also use microwave measurements from satellites and aircraft to measure characteristics of snowpack and the freeze/thaw state of the land surface.

Measurements from NOAA’s aircraft will be enhanced by the use of three NASA aircraft and 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 that obtained by the satellites to determine the accuracy of the satellite data. Researchers hope someday to be able to measure snow quantity and frozen ground from space anywhere in the world without a ground team, particularly in inaccessible areas. Ground teams however do play a crucial part in instrument validation and calibration.

Researchers from several NASA field centers will conduct the experiment with NOAA scientists from NOAA Weather Service’s National Operational Hydrographic Remote Sensing Center.

Other participants include scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Region Research and Engineering Lab, the U.S. Geographical Survey, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and graduate students from universities around the world.

The CLPX is sponsored by NASA’s Terrestrial Hydrology Program and the Earth Observing System Program and by NOAA’s Office of Global Programs to address broad interagency objectives in hydrology, water resources, ecology and atmospheric sciences.

NOAA, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

Reporters who would like to accompany scientists on field testing, contact Kent Laborde or Scott Smullen, NOAA Public Affairs, telephone: (202) 482-6090.

To attend media day, please contact David Steitz or Elvia Thompson at NASA Headquarters, telephone: (202) 358-1730 or (202) 358-1969.

On the Web:

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Story:

NOAA News In-Depth Coverage:

National Operational Hydrographic Remote Sensing Center: