Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
There's no research like snow research.

In today’s blog, Helen McConnell, marketing and communications specialist for Algonquin Provincial Park, explains what “SNOW” is and how SNOW data is used to protect our parks and the species that live here.

On a cold Monday in March, I found myself snowshoeing with our park biologist, crunching loudly through the snow as we followed a “snow course” through the hardwood forest.

An intensive course with Snow Network

A snow circuit is a research site. This one, in Algonquin Provincial Park, was created for the Yesnow northnetwork for ohntario W.wildlife (yes, its acronym is actually “SNOW”).

Algonquin is one of eight provincial parks contributing to this research project with almost 60 active snow courses spread throughout the park.

A wooden post standing in the snow with pink and yellow signaling tape tied around the top.

The day I joined the SNOW job, we headed to each station along a particular snow course to record data at each location.

Each of the SNOW courses has 10 stations, located 20m apart and marked with flagging tape identifying a bright yellow ruler stake.

The ruler must be at least one meter high.

This is because these rules are used to measure the depth of the snow at that location, and in these parts of the province, the snow can get quite high!

Why does SNOW measure snow?

Measurements collected by SNOW are used to calculate a “Snow Depth Index” (SDI), which includes the snow depth accumulated over an entire season.

These measurements are key indicators of winter severity. For example, an IDE greater than 590 cm means a “moderately severe” winter, while an IDE greater than 760 cm represents a “severe winter.”

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SNOW records measurements along the snow course once a week, beginning with the first snowfall of the fall (or the first Monday in November) and continuing until all the snow has melted.

A metal pole on the snow in a forestIn addition to documenting weather conditions, researchers record snow crust conditions: no crust, light crust, or crust strong enough to support a person on snowshoes.

In some locations, a snow penetration gage (SPG) is used to mimic the hoof pressure of an average white-tailed deer on the snowpack. This helps determine the deer’s ability to travel in snowy conditions.

Only about a third of active snowfields measure SPG, and Algonquin is one of them!

A Provincial Winter Science Tradition

The work of monitoring Ontario winters through a snow network has been carried out in the province since 1952.

A snowy path through a forest with a birch tree leaning over the path

Currently, SNOW’s work is maintained by the Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The data collected helps monitor the impact winter conditions have on the province’s deer and other wildlife populations.

The southernmost snowfield location is in Gray County, while the northernmost is in Moosonee.

The Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section team creates maps based on the information collected:

A heat map of Ontario showing snow depth in 2019, with the area northeast of Lake Superior shaded red to record the highest snowfall accumulation.

Since 2000, the snow course recording the greatest annual snow depth is the “Red Rock” field near Wawa in Lake Superior Provincial Park, with maximum depths regularly exceeding 120 cm.

But the deepest snow depth ever recorded was 204 cm in 1990 at Red Lake!

Our research supports our wildlife

Data from the snow network project helps us predict how severe the winter will be. It also helps us make good decisions about how to manage the health of our parks and the species that inhabit them.

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deer in the snow

It has been used in projects and reports such as:

  • evaluate whether snow amounts are sufficient to conduct aerial moose inventories; fresh snowfalls are best for seeing fresh moose tracks and locating individual animals
  • Understand variability in wolf mobility during winter and cascading effects on deer populations.


  • Model habitat suitability or heterogeneity for lynx, martens, and fishers in Ontario to understand distribution patterns and genetic diversity
  • determining the northern limit of the range of white-tailed deer in Ontario
  • Habitat suitability assessment for reintroduction of wild turkeys in Ontario.

Not a bad list of accomplishments for a research project as humble and simple as the Snow Network!