NASA conducting experiments at Olympics during Pyeongchang 2018

A NASA image of the Korea Special Olympics in 2013. PyeongChang, Gangwon-Do

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.

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NASA’s observations and experimental, real-time snow forecasts will be made at 16 different points near Olympic event venues every six hours and then relayed to Olympic officials. The NASA-Unified Weather Research Forecast Model (NU-WRF) is one of five real-time research forecast models being used in ICE-POP. NASA

“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.

The NASA-Unified Weather Research Forecast Model (NU-WRF) is one of five real-time research forecast models being used in ICE-POP. The animation is a NU-WRF model output that shows a snow event on Jan. 14, 2018 in South Korea. NASA

“Snowfall is a key freshwater resource for many people in the world,” Petersen told Newsweek. 

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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.

READ MORE: Here’s what Canada got up to while you were sleeping on Day 1 of 2018 Winter Olympics

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.