Citizen Scientist Opportunity: Snowtweets

The Snowtweets Project

The simplicity of the collection process for Snowtweets’ data makes the project appropriate for use with kids of all ages!

This winter, turn your family’s snow days into opportunities for citizen science by doing some research for the Snowtweets project! Families can participate easily – and often! – simply by taking measurements of the snow cover wherever they are, and sharing their data via Twitter. A project of researchers at Canada’s University of Waterloo, Snowtweets gathers information from around to globe to aid the work of snow and ice researchers. Paired with satellite-generated data on the snowcover (amount of land with snow on it), Snowtweets information is helping to support researchers in their creation of tools for real-time snowmapping – technology that could someday provide to-the-minute accuracy…

Collecting data for the project is fairly simple, and can be done quickly once you know what you’re doing. Head outside with a ruler (or a yardstick, depending on the storm!) and find a patch of snow that is undisturbed – not just by people, but by things like wind-driven drifting, falling snow from trees and roofs, banks created by snowplows, etc. Take a measurement of the snow depth by pushing the ruler straight down into the snow until it hits the ground – and you’re done!

In order to provide accurate data, however, it’s important to be sure that you’ve found a spot in the snow that is truly representative of the amount of snow covering the ground. The first few times that you take measurements, try measuring in a variety of spots in order to see how accurate your measurements are. If you find that your first and second measurements are quite different, you might need to refine your technique or look more closely at the area that you’ve measured – there might be some factors subtly affecting the snow’s depth. However, if your measurements are fairly similar the first few times, then you’re doing it right!

Once you’ve collected data, share it with Snowtweets using a Twitter account – free to sign up for if you’re not already a user. Snowtweets data can be shared using the hashtag #snowtweets, followed by your measurement and your geographic location – either as a zip code, latitude/longitude, or city, state, and country. For example, a tweet from the Hilltowns might read, #snowtweets 6.5 inches Cummington, MA, USA. Want to participate but don’t want to set up a Twitter account, send it to us and we’ll tweet it for you.

The simplicity of the collection process for Snowtweets’ data makes the project appropriate for use with kids of all ages. Youngest students can use the project as an opportunity to practice good measurement techniques and accurate date collection, and their learning can be supported by creating a chart to track snow depth at home throughout the winter. Older students, on the other hand, might be more interested in making predictions about the amount of snow in other parts of the world and using Snowtweets’ world map to compare the amount of snow in New England to the amount in Norway or Russia.

Snowtweets isn’t just a one time thing – participants are asked to share data throughout the winter, even when there’s no snow. The ongoing nature of the project means that the learning that it promotes and supports can be ongoing, and won’t be isolated just to one single experience. Continuously engaging with a project will help students of any age to solidify the concepts that they’ve discovered or practiced while participating. Find your boots and a ruler – and get measuring!

[Photo credit: (cc) John Beetham]

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