High School Students Brave Cold, Snow to Gather Important Snowpack Data

Students collecting snowDiminishing snowpack in Maine is a very real repercussion of global climate change. From maple syrup production to animal food availability to fresh water resources, the phenomenon is not going away, scientists say. But right now, outside Old Town High School in 15 degree cold, it’s come down to “the tube”.

“Hold on, hold on. Who has the tube? Where’s the tube,” asks a shivering Oliviah D’amboise, 14. Failure to find it could mean a cold trek out of the snowy woods and back into the school to retrieve equipment.

Turns out freshman Dakota Madden, 14, has plunged the clear plastic cylinder into a days-old snowpack: “I’ve got it. Six inches!” he calls to Oliviah and their partner, Natalie Swift, 15, both of whom are also freshmen. “Did we get everything,” he asks dumping snow from the tube into a plastic bag, which they will take back to a science lab to measure its mass.

Dakota, Oliviah and Natalie are among 300 students at 13 high schools collecting a wealth of data on Maine’s snowpack, valuable scientific measurements that are fed into a national database tapped by scientists. The project is part of the Acadia Learning Program, a joint venture of UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center, the university’s School of Forest Resources and the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park.

The program has been in place since 2007 and has included research on mercury concentrations in dragonfly larvae that has expanded to 50 national parks and schools throughout the Northeast. The snowpack project is collecting important data not available elsewhere, program coordinators say. Though the National Weather Service (NWS) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) record snowpack measurements, they only do so in open areas. Some Acadia Learning Program students compile data from forested areas – a vital contribution since Maine is 90 percent forested. They measure depth, snow-water equivalent, and duration of snowpack plus additional datasets based on their interests.

“Students develop background understanding about weather and climate, create hypotheses, develop a collection strategy, collect data, and analyze them,” said Sarah Nelson, Associate Research Professor at the Mitchell Center and UMaine’s School of Forest Resources as well as the Principal Investigator of the Acadia Learning snowpack project. “We discovered that students learned a lot through hands-on field investigation and authentic data collection and analysis.” See more on this story