ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Fall 2009

Teachers in the Lab

ESRL scientists, university professors collaborate to study air and sea

In a break from their school-year routines standing in front of classroom Smart Carts and holding office hours, university professors Peter Blanken and Diane Stanitski worked in the lab and field with ESRL scientists this summer. Blanken, whose own research is in boundary layer climatology, worked with Dan Wolfe (ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division, PSD), and spent hours making measurements at ESRL’s 300-meter tall tower in Erie, Colo. Stanitski expanded her ocean-climate knowledge by participating in air-sea flux research in the ESRL lab with Chris Fairall (also PSD), before hopping aboard the University of Hawaii research vessel Kilo Moana to collect field data.

Diane Stanitski cleans intruments at sea.

NOAA “teacher in the lab” Diane Stanitski cleans sensitive instruments during a mission to an ocean/climate buoy.

Blanken and Stanitski were two of five teachers accepted to participate in NOAA’s pilot Teacher in the Lab program, an extension of the Teacher at Sea program, with the purpose of providing teachers hands-on experience working side-by-side with NOAA scientists. Blanken’s and Stanitski’s summer research projects both focused on the air-surface interface, but in two very different environments. Knowledge of the boundary layer is key for understanding future climate—dynamics in the boundary layer influence energy exchanged between the atmosphere and the surface, and better understanding of those dynamics could significantly improve weather and climate models.

Peter Blanken photographs view from BAO tower.

Peter Blanken and the view from the top of ESRL’s Boulder Atmospheric Observatory tower.

Blanken, an Associate Professor in the Geography Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Wolfe worked in the boundary layer at the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory (BAO) tall tower, to monitor atmospheric profiles of temperature, moisture, wind, and carbon. To human eyes, the view from the top of the BAO is sweeping, but Blanken and Wolfe were more interested in the sensor view, or “sample footprint” at the BAO. The area “seen” by the tower’s radiometric and turbulent flux measurements depends on several factors, from sensor height and design to atmospheric conditions such as turbulence and stability. In a series of experiments, Blanken and Wolfe ran sensors up and down the tower on an external carriage, to examine changes in the sampling area. The researchers expect to help scientists better understand satellite measurements through comparisons with data from the BAO.

Wolfe and Blanken continue to collaborate, using new and historic BAO data to develop undergraduate-level lesson plans that follow NOAA’s Climate Literacy Principles.

Stanitski, an adjunct oceanography professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and ESRL physicist Fairall are working together on an ongoing “intercomparison” study between precise flux sensors mounted on long-term ocean reference stations and nearby ship instruments. These flux measurements help researchers quantify air-sea exchanges of heat, freshwater, and momentum—key data for understanding and describing how ocean regions respond to atmospheric changes. This summer’s cruise was to the Woods Hole Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station (WHOTS) mooring 100 km north of Oahu, one of a network of long-term ocean reference stations.

Kilo Moana in port.

What’s WHOTS?

The moored surface buoy WHOTS (Woods Hole Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station) was established in 2004, instrumented with a full complement of meteoroloical sensors. It provides long-term, precise data on air-sea fluxes. The focus of this summer’s WHOTS cruise—on the Kilo Moana, shown below —was to calibrate instruments as precisely as possible. Data on ocean-atmosphere interactions are critical for understanding weather and climate.

Aboard the Kilo Moana, Stanitski launched weather balloons by day and night, crunched large datasets in the lab, mounted radiometers on the ship, and took sea surface temperature readings throughout the cruise. She focused on shortwave and longwave radiation measurements and data from onboard meteorological instruments important to compute air-sea fluxes.

Fairall, Stanitski, and other scientists participating in the WHOTS study plan to co-author a report on the intercomparison findings. Stanitski is incorporating NOAA data into a Global Climate Change course she is teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy this fall. She also plans to write a children’s book about careers in the atmospheric sciences, based on interviews conducted with NOAA scientists.

Wolfe, Blanken, Fairall, and Stanitski will co-author a presentation at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting, describing the value of their Teacher in the Lab experience and research conducted during their summer interactions.