Of course I would pick snow as the ‘s’ word. Snow has been part of my vocabulary since I learned to talk. Growing up in northern Canada, we had snow days that heralded a much-welcome break from school, with snowball fights and snow shoveling (less exciting). We went cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, tobogganing and ice skating. Snow (and ice) was our winter playground.
Snow was less prevalent when I moved to the West Coast, although you could find it at higher elevations. Here snow was a dirty word – during the endless winter rains people told themselves it was always better than snow.
Ultimately I made snow the focus of my research work. Snow melt, snow interactions with forests, snow response to odd meteorological phenomena like Chinooks, and snow contributions to streamflow. But there are so many other areas of snow research that are equally fascinating.
Snow avalanches – which I talked about in a previous blog post. Snow ecology – the habitat it provides for small animals and its ability to preserve vegetation for ungulates over winter. The role of snow in insulating the ground and affecting large scale atmospheric conditions. Snowmelt contributions to soil moisture and subsequent groundwater recharge. The effects of manmade snow on aquatic systems. Long term trends in snow amounts in various corners of the world – and the effects on the ski industry. Blowing and drifting snow, or snow engineering for the best ski experience. Snow removal in urban regions, and the effects of road salt on environmental systems. Rain on snow, particularly the phenomenal floods these processes can generate. Coastal areas such as Corvallis, Oregon, saw significant flooding in Jan 2012 from just such an event. Snow structures, such as snow caves and igloos – and snow recreation, including snowmobiling, heli- and cat-skiing, etc. The effects of snowfall and snowmelt timing on grape production and the wine industry…and so many more I’ve left out.
Snow is part of our national identity – even non-Canadians ask whether we live in igloos full time. We have world-renowned snow scientists and ski hills, a national company that manufactures skidoos, and even maple taffy is made with snow.
It seems like a natural fit to be Canadian and a snow scientist. Maybe one day I’ll cover some of the topics I don’t focus on right now, but for now I’ll stick with snow, forests, mountains and water.