As different countries continue to showcase their talent at PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018 in South Korea, an international team of scientists from Nasa and 20 other agencies is prepping for something else – a detailed study of snowfall in the region.
The scientists have installed as many as 70 ground-based instruments near the Olympic event venues as part of a project called International Collaborative Experiments for PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, or just ICE-POP. The idea is to study and predict snowfall or snowstorms in the region over next five weeks.
Surrounded by mountains, PyeongChang is a perfect location for winter games but at times, the same region can witness heavy snowfall thanks to the interaction of massive domes of cold air from the Sea of Japan and diverse terrain of the region. In a matter of hours, cold air from the ocean could reach the elevated region where the games are being held.
This, as Nasa says, creates a critical problem for measuring the exact situation of snowfall. Ground instruments do not work as effectively as they do on even and easily accessible surfaces, while satellites fail to measure the rate of snowfall owing to the different size and weight of snowflakes which ultimately affects their speed.
However, a combination of the two observational methods under ICE-POP could be the way to make accurate measurements and future forecasts, Nasa and the international scientific community believe.
"The Olympics provide a means to test some of our observation methods and help develop prediction models in a real-world applied environment and enable our observations to be used by the forecasters and Olympic planning folks as well," said Nasa engineer Manuel Vega. The scientists have installed some 70 ground-based instruments to collaborate the results with satellite observations.
Of these, Nasa alone has sent 11 instruments system to PyeongChang, Newsweek reported. This includes imagers that can capture an individual snowflake 400 times per second and radar systems that "measure the quantity and types of falling snow, such as sleet or light and fluffy snow".
The results from the massive chunks of technology will then be compared with the observations from Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite, which detects snowfall and provides global maps of precipitation every 30 minutes.
The data will also be used to test and improve current snowfall forecast models and better analyse cloud and sea surface temperatures and predict when and how much it is likely to rain or snow.
"If we get an improved model, it opens the possibility of using the model to help improve satellite-based methods for estimating snowfall, and more generally, improves our understanding of clouds, climate, and the water and energy cycles," said Walt Petersen, the in charge of the NASA instruments in PyeongChang.