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Welcome to Snow Lab!

Snow Lab logo

Do you like snow?

So do we here at the Scott Polar Research Institute. A lot of our polar scientists research snow and ice (squashed snow). We measure it in lots of different ways. We can measure snow from space, but it's much more fun when it's up close and personal. Polar scientists travel to the Arctic on ships called ice-breakers, and use skis and skidoos to reach snow and ice in the freezing North. You can read why it's important to measure snow.

One way of measuring snow is by digging a snow pit. Then we can measure how much snow has fallen and how fast it is melting. If you like snow, we are hoping you would like to measure some for us.

The Snow Lab Experiment – about measuring snow cover

This is an experiment that can only happen when it snows!

Our first snow lab experiment (winter 2012-13) focuses on snow in Cambridgeshire. If you go to school in Cambridgeshire, or have children who go to school in Cambridgeshire, or teach in a school in Cambridgeshire - then we need your help!

We have created an on-line snow laboratory and you are invited to be a vital part of it. We need your help because every little bit of accurate information you collect about snow cover helps us understand more about snow and the more information we can bring together, the better our understanding will be.

Next time it snows we would like you to gather a few simple tools, put on your a hat, scarf and boots, and go and measure some snow. We will show you how to do it.

"My class found it a really easy and straight forward method, well explained with the photos and using equipment we had to hand ... a great way to use our maths skills - we were surprised at the amount of water it made and didn't estimate anywhere near from looking at the snow in the tray. Can we repeat it if it snows again and send in our results?"

Gareth Rees

Perhaps you have a few questions for us...

Who invented Snow Lab?

Snow Lab is an experiment invented by Dr Gareth Rees, at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. He likes measuring things. He is investigating the way the amount of snow lying on the ground in winter changes from place to place and over time. He is interested in the snow cover over the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, but the snow in Britain is also interesting. He cannot be here, there and everywhere else at the same time but he can collaborate with willing helpers from here, there and everywhere. Snow Lab is an experiment to see whether schools can collaborate with polar scientists at the Scott Polar Research Institute to obtain a better understanding of our snow cover. It is one of his research projects.

Why do you want to measure snow?


Satellites give us valuable information about where snow is lying on the ground and where it is not, but the satellites are so far away from the Earth's surface that they can't see very fine details. With measurements taken on the ground we can start to fill in and understand some of these details and so understand better what we can see from space. This will help us to make more accurate measurements from satellites and monitor how snow is changing across the world.

Where do you want snow measured?

Our first Snow Lab is definitely a Cambridgeshire-based experiment! Eventually, we hope to use Snow Lab to develop methods of collecting scientific information in collaboration with schools. Because we don't know exactly how we will do this yet, we need to start with a fairly small area. We have chosen the area of Cambridgeshire for the first Snow Lab because it has a manageable number of schools, and because we like to develop links with our local schools. We hope that later Snow Labs will take place over a much larger area, perhaps the whole of the UK.

What kind of measurements do you want?

We are interested in three things.

  • The first is very simple: the depth of the snow.
  • The second is a bit more complicated. It is the total amount (the weight, or more correctly we should say the mass) of snow on a given area. By combining this information with the depth of the snow we can work out the density of the snow.
  • The third thing we want to know about the snow is how much liquid water it contains. This is actually the quickest and easiest measurement of all - it just involves making snowballs!

How do I get involved?

It's very easy! If you are at a school in Cambridgeshire and there is snow lying on the ground, and you'd like to add some measurements, just go to the Measuring Snow page where you will find instructions on how to make the measurements, and a form where you can input your results. You don't need to register beforehand. You can do this more than once. It will very useful for us if you can make measurements every day or two when there is snow on the ground, so that we can see how it changes over time.

Do I need special scientific equipment to make measurements?

No, not really. If you choose to measure all the things we want for Snow Lab you will need:

  • a ruler
  • some A4-sized paper or card
  • a bucket
  • a small shovel or trowel
  • a measuring jug which shows the volume of water in millilitres (a scientific measuring cylinder would be better though)

Instead of the measuring jug or cylinder, you could use a digital balance.

You will also need pencil and paper for writing your results down, and suitable clothes (including gloves) for going out into the snow.

What will you do with the measurements?

We will make maps showing how the snow varies across the county and over time. These maps will be put on the SPRI web site, with an explanation of how they were made and what they mean. If we have enough data, we will publish the results in scientific journals.

Will my school be acknowledged if it takes part?

Of course! Schools will be research partners with the Scott Polar Research Institute and will be able to use the Snow Lab logo on their own web sites. We also hope to arrange an event at SPRI in Cambridge at the end of Snow Lab.

What if it doesn't snow this winter?

It already has! We have some results!

Any questions

If you cannot find an answer to your question here, send us your own question.

Who made this web page?
Gareth Rees and Sophie Weeks