February 19, 2013

NASA finds history in ice


In the Adirondacks, they will break ice crystals, searching for fragments of color.

The History of Winter project partnered with the Cryospheric Science Lab and with the U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab this year.

“Dr. Zoe Courville is here from (Cold Regions), giving lectures on how snow crystals change when they fall, and how we can tell what the atmosphere was like when they fell and then what metamorphism (change in crystals over time) tells about the air temperatures.”


These scientists know cold stuff cold.

That is why they come to the frozen Adirondacks every February in a research/outreach program started in 2001.

Koenig spent more than a year in the Arctic and Antarctic, verifying measurements recorded by microwave satellite sensors. 

Courville is also a seasoned polar-region engineer.

The scientists research precision methods to spot melt layers in the snow, freeze layers, thaw layers and to reconstruct what happened in the weather. 

“All of that is very important for avalanche studies and things like that,” Koenig said.

But the primary data relates back to the images captured from space, connecting dots between snowmelt and atmosphere.

NASA’s education resources online explain how snowcover is important — it reflects light, which affects how energy and moisture is exchanged between the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.

“Understanding the extent and duration of snowcover is critical,” the science mission statement explains.


The History of Winter excursion is hosted by Northwood School, a private high school in Lake Placid.

“Northwood allows us to bring 10 to 15 teachers here. We teach the teachers how to be scientists. They learn about the different physics of snow and ice,” Koenig said.

Since 2001, History of Winter has worked with more than 200 teachers. None this year are local.

But they have a busy agenda.

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