Images of climate innovation


This image shows a snowy survey camp among Antarctic mountains. Snow both controls global sea levels and is an extraordinary generator of wealth and wellbeing worldwide, but falling snow is poorly understood because it is difficult to measure. Project SNOWFALL has developed a ground-breaking method for measuring snowfall in detail and on the landscape scale, which will help us predict the future of our snow resources in a changing climate.

This image shows a snowy survey camp among Antarctic mountains

About three trillion tonnes of snow blanket a third of the world’s land each winter. Through summer, when our global thirst for water is greatest, the thaw reaches the mountains and releases this valuable resource, helping to sustain a sixth of the world’s population and a quarter of GDP. But how much snow will we have in future?

Unfortunately, despite 800 years of trying, falling snow is notoriously difficult to measure. Sparse measurements struggle to capture even long-term snowfall averages in the world's mountains and Polar Regions. The amount and location of snow-water stored annually in our river headwaters remain very uncertain. More measurements of snowfall are needed that are more accurate and cover much larger areas, on the kilometre-scale resolution used by weather and climate models. Properly calibrated, these models have the power to map and forecast our snow-water resource.

Project SNOWFALL has found a way to make accurate and precise measurements of accumulating snow-water in the landscape, by monitoring changes in water pressure at the bottom of natural lakes as snowstorms sweep over them. Crucially, these relatively simple, cheap and robust measurements represent snowfall over the whole lake surface, on the kilometre-scales needed to test and calibrate weather and climate models. This removes a major source of uncertainty that plagues conventional point-measurements of snow.

We have developed and tested our method over several winters in the Finnish Arctic, Swiss Alps and Swedish Lapland, and now have SNOWFALL sensors ready to record the blizzards of coastal Greenland and the high Indian Himalayas through the coming winter.

Entrant: Hamish Pritchard , British Antarctic Survey (BAS), (Ice Dynamics and Paleoclimate team)

Copyright: Hamish Pritchard