Athletes won’t be the only ones on the slopes in Pyeongchang for the next few weeks. Scientists from around the globe will come together during the Winter Games to conduct studies on snowfall, with the goal of eventually predicting when it’s going to snow.
NASA is taking advantage of the 2018 Winter Olympics to observe snow, as part of the International Collaborative Experiment for Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games (ICE-POP). The project involves a collaboration between 11 countries and is using 70 instruments spread out across the Pyeongchang region.
“We are interested in South Korea because we can improve our understanding of the physics of snow in mountainous areas to help improve the accuracy of our observations and models,” said Walt Petersen, research physical scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in a statement.
Scientists will be using these instruments to observe and predict conditions for snowfall. The instruments being deployed will be able to photograph an individual snowflake more than 400 times per second.
The goal of these experiments is to learn more about the freshwater cycle, and how snow contributes to providing water for those regions in the months after it melts. The agency conducted similar experiments during the Vancouver and Sochi Olympic Games.
“Snowfall is a key freshwater resource for many people in the world,” Petersen told Newsweek.
The Korean Peninsula’s tricky terrain makes this project a challenging one. The close proximity of the ocean, the Sea of Japan and a mountain range across generally rough terrain could produce unfavourable weather conditions for the scientists working on the project.
While the instruments that monitor the snow are sticking around during the Games, most of the scientists involved with the project will be watching the Games from their homes. The Korean weather agency asked participating scientists to return home after the planning stages, if possible.
“The hotels are awesome, but there’s not enough of them,” Petersen said.