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Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks uses new funding from NASA to track snowfall

Sep 29, 2021

It’s no secret that Alaska’s Interior and Arctic regions see a lot of snow. However, UAF researcher Sveta Stuefer (Stoo-ef-er) says the amount of snow on the landscape is a mystery in most of the state. 

“It's really amazing that snow plays such a big role in our everyday lives yet we know we don't really have a good representation of snow on the ground.”

Stuefer is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Environmental Engineering at UAF. She was recently awarded funds from NASA for a research project she hopes will generate detailed maps of the amount of snow normally present across the state of Alaska. 

More specifically, researchers will devise a method for determining the distribution of snow water equivalent across the state. That’s the amount of water snow yields when it melts. 

Understanding snow across a vast region like the state of Alaska isn’t easy. 

“The difficult part is that we can measure snow very well, at the the point, or we can get a good representation of relatively small areas.”

But it would take far too much time and money to measure the snow-water equivalent at every point in the state. That’s why Stuefer’s study will use modeling and remote sensing understand snow across the large state.

Why does the amount of snow on the ground matter?

“Snow affects our life in many ways.  We use it for recreation. It affects our driving conditions.”

Scientists need information about snow to understand the water cycle. A large portion of the precipitation that falls on the region is snow.  When temperatures warm, that snow melts and is released into the water cycle. 

And in Alaska snow impacts development and road construction. 

Stuefer says the study will provide urgently needed information. 

“This question has been around for a long time.”

Stuefer said snow research is getting a lot of attention in recent years. NASA created the SnowEX research program to generate information about snow and the water cycle around the globe. That’s in part because snow distribution is changing as a result of climate change. Stuefer’s study will coincide with NASA’s SnowEx research in Alaska. She’s excited about this golden age of snow research.

“I'm really happy that this year, they decided to focus on snow and support snow research.”