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Grand Mesa is focus of 'snow-off' study

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Snow is a critical source of water, a major weather phenomenon, part of many ecosystems, and an important element in floods and other natural hazards.

A major portion of the national and global economies is impacted by snow, yet accurately measuring how much snow exists across the United States and the world is difficult. SnowEx is a major effort by agencies like NASA and the Forest Service to improve the ability to measure snow, ultimately by satellites in space.SnowEx is a step on the path to a future satellite mission dedicated to global snow applications.

SnowEx is a multi-year project with the primary goal of determining how much water is stored in Earth's snow-covered regions. The project will investigate the distribution of snow-water equivalent (SWE) across mountainous terrain and vegetation. Year 1 (2016-17) will focus on Grand Mesa and the Senator Beck Basin in western Colorado. The effort will utilize a unique combination of airborne sensors, active and passive microwave, an imaging spectrometer, and infrared sensors to determine the sensitivity and accuracy of different remote sensing techniques. The SnowEx ground truth component -- involving ground-based instruments, snow-field measurements and modeling -- is a critical part of the project to validate the data. NASA and the Forest Service welcome interest by the public in these activities. Watch for signs and markers that identify spots where measurements are being made, and please avoid disturbing the snow near those areas.

The SnowEx project completed its first steps on Grand Mesa at the end of September -- a two-week effort to set up equipment prior to the arrival of snow. Additionally, "snow-off" measurements were taken with both airborne and ground-based instruments. Visitors to Grand Mesa may come across several NASA observation locations. Please do not disrupt the equipment or disturb the area, as it will affect the accuracy and success of the project.

Beginning Feb. 6, 2017, the primary "snow-on" portion of the project begins and will last for three weeks. This will consist of approximately 50 people on the ground each week taking a variety of different kinds of snow measurements and utilizing many different techniques. In the air, SnowEx will use aircraft, courtesy of the Naval Research Lab, with four microwave and visible/infrared sensors.

A final "snow-off" measuring effort will occur sometime in the summer of 2017, involving aircraft and sensors. After completion, the SnowEx equipment will be removed from the sites. All data will be available to the science community and the public in late 2017.

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