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Help NASA out at Norway Pond this summer

  • The gauge at the Norway Pond boat launch and beach in Hancock will soon have a sign with a number passersby can text to report depth readings. Abbe Hamilton / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • The gauge at the Norway Pond boat launch and beach in Hancock will soon have a sign with a number passersby can text to report depth readings. May 15, 2020. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/24/2020 6:52:41 PM

This summer, visitors to Norway Pond in Hancock can aid a global climate study sponsored by NASA, just by sending a text.

The Norway Pond Commission is the first New Hampshire partner in Lake Observations by Citizen Scientists and Satellites, a global study run by the University of North Carolina that tracks changes in water body volumes over time. The amount of water in a lake at a given time is calculated by combining satellite images of the lake’s area with readings from water depth gauges on the same day. The Commission recently installed a gauge by the boat launch on Norway Pond, mailed from North Carolina for the study, and an informational sign is coming soon. “If anybody’s walking by the gauge, there’s a telephone number and they can text a message that goes into a database,” member Tom Shevenell said.

The DES tapped the Commission for the study because of the group’s previous participation in the Volunteer Lake Assessment Program, which helps the state monitor water quality. Additionally, New Hampshire lies right under the path of the satellite. It passes over Norway Pond every eight days, Shevenell said, double the rate it passes over the rest of the Earth’s surface. That’s twice the opportunity for data collection, he said. The study  ultimately wants data from 20 lakes in the state. “It’s fun to be first in line,” Shevenell said, and that he’s excited that the pond is serving as a guinea pig for a worldwide project.

Crowd-sourced data makes it substantially cheaper to collect the massive volume necessary for the study, Shevenell said. The information can help scientists better understand how human and environmental factors affect water movement around the world, and improve the satellite readings’ accuracy, Shevenell said. It can document the systematic changes in the water cycle as the climate changes, he said, and identify what that means for an area’s water storage capacity, and whether it’s most influenced by a local or regional scale.

“Norway Pond changes a lot,” Shevenell said. It lost 25 percent of its volume between spring and summer before picking back up in the fall last year, he said, and the Commission is working to find out how that impacts the ecology of the pond. The study could also inform how much manmade dams factor in: last August they saw the lake rise while levels in the Contoocook stayed low, he said. How much of that was natural, versus manipulation of dams on the Contoocook? All data logged by text for the study will be publicly accessible, he said, which can help scientists around the world answequestions like that for their own water bodies.  

Norway Pond Commission members will be making sure to log data every day the satellite is scheduled to fly over, Shevenell said, but the more datapoints the public logs, the better. The database keeps track of phone numbers, so you can weed out inaccuracies by checking whether an unexpected depth level came from a one-timer or a regular reporter, he said.

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