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December 2005 - January 2006

A TWERLE reunion

Pago Pago team 1975
Above: The Pago Pago team members in August 1975, with their balloon launch vehicle (clockwise from bottom): Dean Grantham, Jerry Meehl, Jim Scott, Gene Ellis, Marcel Verstraete, and Ron Marks. Several members of the crew wore their official, NCAR-issued blue "launch shirts."

Below: Thirty years later, members of the team met in Boulder to recreate the pose of the 1975 photo. Standing (left to right): Jim Scott, Jerry Meehl, and Marcel Verstraete; seated: Dean Grantham. (Photos courtesy Jerry Meehl.)
Pago Pago team 2005

Four members of a balloon launching team for NCAR's Tropical Wind Energy Conversion and Reference Level Experiment (TWERLE) recently held a reunion in Boulder to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the field program. The four—CGD's Jerry Meehl, EOL's Marcel Verstraete, and former staffers Dean Grantham and Jim Scott—were based together in Pago Pago, American Samoa, for the project.

TWERLE, conducted in 1975, collected data on atmospheric conditions throughout the Southern Hemisphere. The tropical phase required crews trained in Boulder to launch balloons that would rise to about 150 millibars (near the top of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere) and circle the globe at that altitude. The train of instruments strung below each balloon included a transmitter that broadcast data on position (from which winds were derived), altitude, temperature, and humidity to a satellite. Those data were then relayed back to Boulder for archiving and analysis.

Crew members at three sites in the tropics—Pago Pago in the South Pacific, Ascension Island in the Atlantic, and Ghana in West Africa—each launched about 100 balloons during the summer and early fall. The launch crews consisted of about five to seven NCAR staffers. The Pago Pago crew had six members including Marcel, who managed the NCAR balloon launching facility in Christchurch, New Zealand, and came to Pago Pago to supervise the rest of the crew.

A subsequent midlatitude phase, during which balloons were launched from Christchurch, took place from November 1975 to February 1976. Marcel also supervised the New Zealand phase and was assisted by Dean and Jerry, along with former staffer Chris Roark, who came to New Zealand from the Ascension Island crew.

Jim, who now lives in Del Mar, California, carried a 16-millimeter movie camera with him to Pago Pago and made a movie that is the official visual record of the TWERLE project.

"A lot of my film got ruined when the little refrigerator in our building at the Pago Pago airport defrosted one day," he recalls. "But I was able to salvage enough decent footage to put the movie together."

At the reunion last August, the former Pago Pago crew members viewed a video version of Jim's TWERLE movie, in addition to looking at old photos and artifacts. "We took a lot of photos and we have Jim's movie, so we at least have some references to keep the stories from getting too overblown," says Jerry.

"That time in the South Pacific was truly unique, and we formed friendships that we still enjoy," says Dean, who now lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The Pago Pago crew also met in 1995 for its 20th anniversary. "It's been great that we've been able to keep in touch all these years," Marcel explains. "Living and working together in Pago Pago gave us a common shared connection that's still strong today."

• by David Hosansky

Also in this issue...

The 2005 Outstanding Accomplishment Awards

Offsite but not unseen:
UCAR's non-Boulder staffers stay in touch

A TWERLE reunion

Predicting hurricane damage

Atmospheric science books for all ages

CGD research shows that permafrost may thaw in this century

New CG library

Just One Look: Santa


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