NASA is Heading to the Winter Olympics to Study Snow

Sunday, 11 February 2018 - 1:23PM
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NASA
Sunday, 11 February 2018 - 1:23PM
NASA is Heading to the Winter Olympics to Study Snow
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YouTube/NASA Goddard
Like so many people around the world, a group of NASA scientists are currently in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but they're not watching the Winter Olympics. They're just stationed there for the snow.

About a dozen NASA scientists are joining an international team of eleven countries to manage a cluster of scientific instruments, which include SUV-sized radar dishes that analyze all the snow falling over the mountainous slopes that a bunch of nearby athletes are skiing down. 

The technology may be elaborate, but the goal is simple: they want to know more about snowfall in mountains, and how it interacts with the ocean and its role in broader weather systems, and this region of South Korea is perfect for that. The project, led by the Korea Meteorological Administration, is called the "International Collaborative Experiments for Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games". 

If that sounds suspiciously like it's setting up some elaborate and silly acronym, that's because it's called "ICE-POP" for short.



Calling the whole region a "backdoor cold front," research scientist Walt Petersen from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center explained that Pyeongchang's location makes it unique: cold air travels in from the Sea of Japan and passes over wild changes in terrain as it moves from coastal area to mountainous ones. This can cause some large snow events that don't occur elsewhere, and that's what ICE-POP wants to investigate.

Petersen continues in a press statement:

Opening quote
"We are interested in South Korea because we can improve our understanding of the physics of snow in mountainous areas to help improve the accuracy of our observations and models."
Closing quote




NASA does have a series of satellites that can examine snow from a bird's eye view, but it becomes complicated to get a close enough look in hilly regions. All the scientific instruments are set to run continuously until the end of the Olympic games, so hopefully they'll learn a few facts about the weather by then, and more importantly, what we can do with that extra knowledge about the weather.

It's not the most exciting winter sport, but it's an important one even without any bobsleds.
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