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Women cross country skiing on the Icicle River trail in Leavenworth, Eastern Washington State. Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket via Getty Images

A NASA program is recruiting citizen scientists to measure snowpack in the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, according to the Associated Press.

Why it matters: The measurements are used to estimate how much water is being held in the snow, and therefore how much will be released into rivers and reservoirs in the area. In the western U.S., "nearly three-fourths of annual stream flow that provides drinking water comes from spring and summer melt," writes the AP's Dan Joling. Researchers want to improve the accuracy of measurements so that simulations can better predict the effect of snowmelt on a watershed.

How it works: Participants can measure snow depth with an avalanche probe, something most people hiking in these areas already carry, David Hill, a professor at Oregon State University and one of the researchers on the program told the AP. The measurements are then entered into a smartphone app, which records the location and time of measurement.

  • Gabriel Wolken, a research geologist with the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys, told the AP, "the hundreds of measurements collected far outpaced what the scientists could gather."
  • Hill said the input from the public is cutting errors "in our modeled snow-water equivalent...by about 90 percent."
  • The program, called Community Snow Observations, is meant to complement snow telemetry stations that also provide measurements though there aren't many of them due to installation and maintenance costs, said Hill.

Go deeper

Former FDA commissioner: "Reliable drug supply is absolutely critical"

Axios' Caitlin Owens and former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan. Photo courtesy of Axios Events

Having a reliable supply of pharmaceutical drugs throughout America will be "absolutely critical" to boosting affordability in health care during the Biden administration, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Mark McClellan said at a virtual Axios Event on Friday.

The big picture: McClellan, who served under President George W. Bush, says drugs having limited supply and limited competition leads to elevated pricing. He considers drug supply to be a national security and public health issue.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Americans are still spending money

Source: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans spent more money at stores and restaurants in 2020 than they did in 2019 — even in the face of a devastating global pandemic that shut down broad sectors of the economy.

Why it matters: The monthly retail sales report this morning came in well below expectations, and showed consumer spending falling on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Total expenditures were still higher in December 2020 than they were a year previously, however.

The deplatforming fight shifts to the courts

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Capitol riot and tech firms' sweeping attempt in its wake to dislodge the online far right are kicking up efforts to have the courts settle knotty questions about online speech and power.

Why it matters: Legal battles could force the people angry at Big Tech to bring more rigor to arguments that have often devolved into messy sideshows.