February 19, 2013

NASA finds history in ice

LAKE PLACID — Scientists from NASA were in the Adirondacks for a week, but they weren’t launching rockets.

They were researching “the History of Winter” — a timeline hidden in crystal layers of snow and ice.

They were searching for all types of frozen water, be it manmade, dangling from rocky cliffs or stacked in tiny crystalline layers on Adirondack lakes.

The data will inform their much larger view from space of the Earth’s snowy cover.


They took samples from the Cascade Lakes and from Tupper Lake, among other sites, and from ice-climbing sheets at Pitchoff Mountain. 

As part of the History of Winter (HOW) project, NASA scientists also work with a group of teachers from around the country, providing access to research techniques that can then be brought back to science classrooms.

Dr. Lora Koenig, a physical scientist in the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said they are researching snow crystals.

The microscopic details will help NASA understand the cryosphere — that part of the Earth’s surface covered in glaciers, snow and sea ice.

“By looking at these samples, we see when melt can form. We really have to understand what’s going on with the snow in small detail. That’s actually what we do here,” Koenig said.

“Do you think something as small as snow crystals can be detected from space? Yes, they can.

“With passive microwave, we always look at grain size and density of snow.”


NASA’s Cryospheric Laboratory, which has been around for decades, monitors the ice sheets, sea ice and snowfall over land.

These are the same scientists who create NASA’s moving images of melting sea ice and chronicle ice trends on the polar caps.

“In our branch of NASA, ICESat and a second satellite about to launch, ICESat2, use laser altimeters to monitor the cryosphere,” Koenig said.

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