Special Report - Climate Research - From Science to Society
Going where no facility has gone before
A data acquisition system is being sent to Niger next year to collect climate information in this data-sparse region as part of a new user facility established by the U.S. Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program, ARM.
Meteorological conditions in Niger include intense storm systems in the wet season and dust in the dry season—including episodes of mineral dust from the Sahara and tiny aerosol particles from biomass burning. Information obtained during the year-long field campaign will help scientists to understand two important relationships—the relationship between dust and climate and the relationship between clouds, heating and monsoon strength.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, along with seven other national laboratories, shares management duties for the infrastructure that makes up the ARM Climate Research Facility, or ACRF.
This infrastructure consists of engineering, data archival and operations activities for obtaining atmospheric measurements from research sites around the world.
The six data collection sites include one in Oklahoma, two on the North Slope of Alaska and three sites in the tropical Western Pacific, all of which contain a variety of state-of-the-art active and passive remote sensing instruments. "Fifteen years ago, it was unheard of to take continuous long-term climate measurements with this high of quality from the ground," said PNNL's Jimmy Voyles, who coordinates the multi-lab user facility for the DOE. "ACRF's real-time data and quality analysis have revolutionized climate data gathering."
Each of the sites provides key data for climate research. The Western Pacific sites, for example, are in the tropical warm pool, where warm ocean temperatures produce an abundance of water vapor and cloud formation. This region, sometimes referred to as the boiler box of the earth's climate, is an important driver of the global water cycle and plays a crucial role in climate oscillations such as the El Niño cycle.
In addition to the fixed collection sites, ACRF operates a mobile facility. "We recognize that there are other scientifically important climate regions in addition to the regions we are working in," Voyles said. "Our mobile facility fills these voids."
In 2006, the mobile facility joins an ongoing international experiment in Niger to provide the first-ever set of continuous ground-based measurements of solar and thermal radiation for comparison to satellite data. As part of the ACRF national user facility, the mobile facility is available to researchers from around the world. For more information, see the ARM Web site at http://www.arm.gov/.