Category: olympics

What are we doing at the Winter Olympics?

This Winter Olympics, our researchers are hoping for what a lot of Olympic athletes want in PyeongChang: precipitation and perfection. 

Our researchers are measuring the quantity and type of snow falling on the slopes, tracks and halfpipes at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympic games.

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We are using ground instruments, satellite data and weather models to deliver detailed reports of current snow conditions and are testing experimental forecast models at 16 different points near Olympic event venues (shown below). The information is relayed every six hours to Olympic officials to help them account for approaching weather.

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We are performing this research in collaboration with the Korea Meteorological Administration, as one of 20 agencies from about a dozen countries and the World Meteorological Organization’s World Weather Research Programme in a project called the International Collaborative Experiments for PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, or ICE-POP. The international team will make measurements from the start of the Olympics on Feb. 9 through the end of the Paralympics on March 18.

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Image Credit: Republic of Korea

South Korea’s diverse terrain makes this project an exciting, albeit challenging, endeavor for scientists to study snow events. Ground instruments provide accurate snow observations in easily accessible surfaces, but not on uneven and in hard to reach mountainous terrain. A satellite in space has the ideal vantage point, but space measurements are difficult because snow varies in size, shape and water content. Those variables mean the snowflakes won’t fall at the same speed, making it hard to estimate the rates of snowfall. Snowflakes also have angles and planar “surfaces” that make it difficult for satellite radars to read.

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The solution is to gather data from space and the ground and compare the measurements. We will track snowstorms and precipitation rates from space using the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, or GPM. The GPM Core Observatory is a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and coordinates with twelve other U.S. and international satellites to provide global maps of precipitation every 30 minutes (shown below).

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We will complement the space data with 11 of our instruments observing weather from the ground in PyeongChang. These instruments are contributing to a larger international pool of measurements taken by instruments from the other ICE-POP participants: a total of 70 instruments deployed at the Olympics. We deployed the Dual-frequency, Dual-polarized, Doppler Radar system, usually housed at our Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, to PyeongChang (shown below) that measures the quantity and types of falling snow.

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The data will help inform Olympic officials about the current weather conditions, and will also be incorporated into the second leg of our research: improving weather forecast models. Our Marshall Space Flight Center’s Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT) is teaming up with our Goddard Space Flight Center to use an advanced weather prediction model to provide weather forecasts in six-hour intervals over specific points on the Olympic grounds.

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The above animation is our Unified Weather Research Forecast model (NU-WRF) based at Goddard. The model output shows a snow event on Jan. 14, 2018 in South Korea. The left animation labeled “precipitation type” shows where rain, snow, ice, and freezing rain are predicted to occur at each forecast time. The right labeled “surface visibility” is a measure of the distance that people can see ahead of them.

The SPoRT team will be providing four forecasts per day to the Korea Meteorological Administration, who will look at this model in conjunction with all the real-time forecast models in the ICE-POP campaign before relaying information to Olympic officials. The NU-WRF is one of five real-time forecast models running in the ICE-POP campaign.

For more information, watch the video below or read the entire story HERE.

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