Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Nagaoka Snow and Ice Center

We've had a remarkable visit with scientists at the Nagaoka Snow and Ice Center, one that I think will greatly increase collaborative research between the US and Japan on lake- and sea-effect snowstorms.

Photos of yesterday's talks and discussions are of course boring, so we start with a few from the late dinner, during which I indulged in snails for the first time.

The food and drink was excellent, including the sashimi.

Today was the first with bonafide sea-effect snows affecting a large area.  In Nagaoka, where a vast majority of the wintertime snow falls at temperatures near 0ÂșC, warm water is sprayed on the sidewalks and streets to keep them snow free.

For much of the day, we toured facilities at the Nagaoka Snow and Ice Center and in the surrounding plains and mountains.  Its hard not to be jealous of the toys they have to play with.  Here's a scanning X-band radar right on top of their offices, which scans continuously across the Niigata Prefecture.

Measuring and sampling falling snow is extremely difficult, especially in the wind.  They have developed this ingenious double-netted protected area in which to collect their samples.  

Within the protected area they have a rain gauge and additional instruments that measure particle characteristics.  

However, the really exciting stuff is in the falling-snow observatory, that is connected to it and used to image snowflakes using some ingenious methods developed by Dr. Masaaki Ishizaka and colleagues.

Here, photos of snowflakes are taken and analyzed to quantify both their shape and fall speed.  Based on this information, the general microphysical characteristics of storms are quickly quantified.

Meanwhile, snow in another location falls onto a conveyor belt and is photographed at very high detail and resolution.

Eventually, we went up into the mountains east of Nagaoka where full-bore sea-effect dumpage was raging.  The route we followed was snow covered and unplowed for much of the way, but it was a winter wonderland.

We then did a short hike by snowshoe.  

Our destination was one of their snow and weather measurement stations.  Essentially, these are SNOTEL stations on steroids that measure snow depth, snow water equivalent, and numerous other weather elements.  This site is less than 500 meters above sea level, but observes maximum snow depths of 3 to 4 meters.

Now for a couple of other items.  First, Japan does not mess around when it comes to avalanches.  Their snow accumulation season is probably the most intense in the world with a rapid buildup of snow depth during the winter and an equally rapid melt.  Even short stretches of steep terrain above highways can be extremely dangerous.  Plenty of passive avalanche protection measures are taken throughout the mountains.

Second, the Nagaoka Snow and Ice Center has a nifty display illustrating the depth of snow from near sea level to the mountains.  The graph below is built onto the side of their falling-snow observatory with each line illustrating the maximum snow depth observed at various elevations over the past several years.

I think we need such a graph at the University of Utah!

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure you are loving it there- very fascinating stuff!