UW researchers using new tech to track impact of snow on ecosystems

By Justine Fraser

As climate change continues to change the amount of snow hitting the ground, a new model called SPLITSnow could help track how light and snow are impacting ecosystems globally.

It depicts how the sun’s light is blocked or transmitted through snow which can have an affect on future plant growth.

SPLITSnow can help track what that means for global ecosystems.

Previous models do exist, but the new model is more detailed and accounts for a variety of snow properties such as density, water content, size and shape. The model is part of a larger body of research that tracks how light interacts with complex materials such as snow.

According to the University of Waterloo research team, the model can generate data climate scientists can use globally.

“One current problem facing scientists is the greening phenomenon,” said Gladimir Baranoski, a professor of computer science in a media release. “Many regions of the world are seeing vegetation growth much earlier and more widely in the season cycle than they have previously, which can alter the whole balance of energy.”

Understanding how sun’s light is changed as it shines through snow could help climate scientists predict how climate change will affect plant growth. According to the researchers, “Snow tends to absorb reddish light with blue light shining through.”

“Different wavelengths can be seen as signals for different processes affecting the growth of snow-covered plants,” said Petri Varsa, a PhD candidate in computer science and the lead author of the research in a media release. “Some keep plants dormant, and some facilitate growth. Even small changes in the quantity and the quality of light propagated by snow may dramatically affect ecosystems.”

The new model could also serve as a time saver for graphic design artists who often have to colour in snow scenes by offloading some of that work to computers, so the artists can spend their time on other things.

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