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Citizen scientists assist with climate study

NSF Award:

Interactions Among Climate, Land Use, Ecosystem Services and Society  (University of New Hampshire)

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Led by a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), 15 volunteer citizen scientists are measuring albedo, the reflectivity of the Earth's surface, in a project that seeks to better understand the impact of land use and climate change on the environment.

New Hampshire is the second most forested state in the U.S. with nearly 80 percent forest cover, which is typical for New England. But over a century ago, the same New England landscape was much different. Sheep pastures, home fuel needs, and a booming lumber and paper mill industry reduced the forest cover to less than 50 percent.

To understand climate change, scientists need to further study the role of surface albedo. Elizabeth Burakowski, a graduate student at the UNH, and her team of citizen scientists identified intriguing nocturnal temperature patterns over adjacent deforested and forested areas that may be linked to the presence and absence of snow cover. The group used detailed measurements collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-funded AIRMAP station and U.S. Climate Reference Network station at the Thompson Farm Research Station.

A snow-covered field has a very high albedo, reflecting most of the sun's energy back to space, leaving very little energy to be re-emitted as heat. The dark forest canopies that have regrown since 1870 now absorb much of the sun's energy and help to warm the landscape.  It is unclear what impact deforestation had on nocturnal temperatures.

These scientific hobbyists and self-proclaimed weather nuts belong to the NSF- and NOAA-funded CoCoRaHS--the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network--a nonprofit, community based network of volunteers who take daily precipitation measurements in their backyards. This is the first group of CoCoRaHS volunteers to record albedo. Burakowski is part of the Ecosystems and Society project funded through New Hampshire's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

Images (1 of )

  • elizabeth burakowski climbs a tower to take solar reflection measurements
  • volunteer records snow density
Citizen network leader prepares to take solar reflection measurements.
Michelle Day, University of New Hampshire
Network volunteer helps record snow density.
Michelle Day, University of New Hampshire

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