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2000-24 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 5, 2000

NCAR Scientists Focus Latest Technology on Salt Lake Valley to Help Improve Winter Smog Forecasting

David Hosansky
UCAR Communications
P.O. Box 3000
Boulder, CO 80307-3000
Telephone: (303) 497-8611
Fax: (303) 497-8610
E-mail: hosansky@ucar.edu

BOULDER -- Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are launching weather balloons and pointing high-tech radar into Utah's Salt Lake Valley skies from October 1 to 31. The researchers are also gathering data from wind profilers and other specialized instruments, all part of an intensive study of how air moves in the valley, especially overnight during colder months. Salt Lake City, Denver, and other cities prone to pollution-trapping temperature inversions could benefit from the results, which will be used to improve computer models employed in forecasting weather and tracking air quality. The U.S. Department of Energy is funding the experiment (see below). NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.

"The U.S. population's been growing in the west, particularly in urban basins. Predicting the weather and air quality in these areas, where calm, stable air interacts with mountains and valleys, is a fairly difficult proposition," says NCAR scientist David Parsons. He and 16 NCAR colleagues are based at NCAR's research site, about 25 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City, during the experiment.

A new type of tethered weather balloon is making its maiden "flight" at the research site. TAOS, the Tethered Atmospheric Observing System, was developed by NCAR researcher Ned Chamberlain and colleagues to take measurements every second or so of winds, air pressure, and other conditions needed to understand and predict turbulence. Its vertical range is just over half a mile (1 kilometer), with measurements taken at eight different levels up to that height. For the Salt Lake Valley experiment, which takes place below a major flight path, the balloon will sit slightly lower, at 2,000 feet (600 meters), and send back rapid readings from five or six heights.

Also at the site is NCAR's Multiple Antenna Radar Profiler. MAPR looks upward to take rapid measurements of winds up to about a mile above the instrument (2 km). While most wind profilers report measurements every 15 minutes, MAPR is capable of capturing wind behavior every 60 seconds, giving researchers the greater detail they need to understand the behavior of stable air.

While other weather projects focus on dramatic events, "for this project we want cold, clear, stable conditions," says Parsons. Understanding the subtle mixing of stable air overnight is key to forecasting smog-trapping temperature inversions. Those are the conditions that greet residents of Denver and other western U.S. cities as they wake up on winter mornings: cold, polluted, urban air trapped underneath a layer of warmer air. The measurements gathered during the experiment will be analyzed to see how to improve weather forecasting models like NCAR's mesoscale model, MM5, which is used by researchers and weather forecasters around the world.

The NCAR site is one of nine in the experiment, which is led by the U.S. Department of Energy and involves 60 researchers from 14 research institutions across the country (see DOE news release). NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences.

filename: TAOS1.jpg

NCAR's Tethered Atmospheric Observing System is a 21-foot-long balloon that can hover up to 3,200 feet above the ground. Instruments attached at several heights along its string provide information to researchers every second or so on winds, air pressure, and other atmospheric conditions. (Photo: National Center for Atmospheric Research. Photographer: Charles Martin.)

-The End-

Note to Editors: NCAR researchers are available in Salt Lake at the research site and in Boulder. Contact David Hosansky to schedule an interview (303-497-8611).

See also:
Vertical Transport and Mixing Experiment
NCAR's Atmospheric Technology Division
NCAR Image Library

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The National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Office of Programs are operated by UCAR under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any of UCAR's sponsors. UCAR is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.

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Last revised: Wed Oct 25 15:08:41 MDT 2000