In last month’s blog, we described different types of snow crystals you might see as they fall to the ground. The journey of snow does not end, however, once it hits solid earth. The story of the snowpack is, in fact, just beginning.
As soon as a snow crystal lands and snow begins to pile up, it all begins to change. The anthropologist Franz Boas claimed that the Inuit people had hundreds of words for snow. While the actual number is more like 50, he wasn’t wrong in thinking that people who live in snow every day have many words to describe the many different types of snow that can develop on the ground.
For example, sastrugi (a German/Russian word) is snow formed by wind, packed into dense ridges that often run parallel with each other. Sastrugi is very firm, though not as dense as ice. It is not fun to ski or run a sled over, however, it can be useful in building shelters as it will stand up to erosion from wind and ice.
It’s not just the surface snow that can change. Deep down in the snowpack, a process called constructive metamorphism can create grains of snow called facets. Facets are beautiful, cube-shaped, and delicate. When handled, they often collapse and sound as though tiny bits of broken glass are pouring through your hand. Interestingly, avalanche scientists associate the presence of facets with instabilities in the snowpack that might lead to avalanches in the mountains. Facets form when the air temperature is extremely cold, which draws moisture up through the snowpack.
There are many other types of snow that form at both the surface, and deep in the snowpack. Snow scientists will spend the entire winter tracking different snowpacks throughout the country to try to better understand how these different types of snow affect our everyday lives. Check out the activity below to help you and your students better understand the intricacies of snow!
This is a simple data gathering activity that will help you and your students learn about how the snowpack can change without having to know 50 different words for snow.
- Journal and Pencil
- Winter Clothing
- Once a day for a week after it snows, head outside with your students.
- Have the students make the same observations of the snow in a and new and undisturbed location each day.
- What is the depth of the snowpack?
- Can the surface snow be packed into a snowball?
- What does it feel like to walk on the snow?
- Dig down to the bottom of the snowpack. What does the snow look like? Does it appear to be small snowflakes or some other shape of snow crystal?
- At the same time, track the weather each night, making note of the low temperature, wind, and precipitation.
- At the end of the week, compile the data.
- How did the snowpack change over the week?
- How might the weather have played a part in changing the snowpack?