Students Monitoring Snowpack

High school students at Cobscook Community Learning Center in Downeast Maine, collect data about recent snowfall in their local watershed.

High school students at Cobscook Community Learning Center in Downeast Maine, collect data about recent snowfall in their local watershed. Photo credit: Hannah Webber, Schoodic Institute

During a time of year when most students are huddled in their classrooms, over 300 high school students from around the State are getting out in the snow so that we can better understand Maine’s snowpack.

Snowfall and the accumulated snow on the ground (snowpack) are important not just to us, our plowing contract, and the school year length. Snowpack is also important for animals like diadromous fish, who use the spring melt as a cue to migrate, and ruffed grouse, who need deep snow for winter shelter. Snowy winters passing into wet springs create special types of physical and chemical environments that plants and animals need in order to flourish.

Snow data have not typically been collected in many places in Maine, especially places across all climate zones, or where there are forests. This gap in the data makes for a gap in our understanding of snowpack in Maine. As the climate changes how will Maine’s snowpack be affected, and will the effects be the same throughout the State? Through the Snowpack Project Schoodic Institute, with partners at the University of Maine, trains teachers who then work with their students, and research partners to collect snow data to help find out.

The 17 teachers partnering this year on the Snowpack Project, and their students, are out collecting and submitting data from Waterboro to Limestone, and from New Salem to Trescott—filling in gaps in the data. Every sampling day students are spending some of their school day connecting with the natural world to help understand our world a little more while providing valuable data for themselves, project partners, and the larger research community. This is the second year of the project and Schoodic staff are now gearing up to train the third year of teachers who will bring participatory science into their curricula.

Schoodic Institute advances Scientist-Teacher-Student Partnerships like the Snowpack Project through its Acadia Learning Program—a program which brings scientists, teachers, and students together in partnerships that result in useful research and effective science education. Other partners on this Acadia Learning project include: National Weather Service,  U.S. Geological Survey, Maine Sea Grant, and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. This project is funded by a grant from the NOAA B-WET program.

National Weather Service scientists train teachers in reading a rain & snow gauge using a hands-on water balloon game. Photo credit: Hannah Webber, Schoodic Institute

National Weather Service scientists train teachers in reading a rain & snow gauge using a hands-on water balloon game. Photo credit: Hannah Webber, Schoodic Institute

– Hannah Webber