The University of North Dakota (UND) has received a contract of just over $1 million to conduct research on behalf of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in an effort to improve the understanding of thunderstorms.
The research combines aircraft measurements and observations with the Navy’s Mid-Course Doppler Radar (MCR) to develop better cloud models, university officials explain.
According to David Delene, a professor of atmospheric sciences at UND, the Cape Experiment 2019 (CapeEx19) is an “historic opportunity both in the project’s sophisticated level of research and the partnerships it creates.”
UND will subcontract with Fargo, N.D.-based Weather Modification International (WMI) to use its Cessna Citation II Research Aircraft, a modified jet previously owned by the university.
“This is a great example of a public-private partnership,” Delene said. “We both take the strengths of what we can do to conduct a project that’s difficult to do individually. UND provides the scientific understanding, and WMI provides the ability to operate the aircraft safely and effectively while utilizing state-of-the-art aircraft probes.”
For two weeks this summer, WMI and UND will conduct between 20 and 30 hours of flying in thunderstorm anvils near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Citation II aircraft can reach heights allowing a variety of cutting-edge probes to take measurements at the tops and centers of storms, officials note.
Probes in use during this mission will measure essential atmospheric state parameters (temperature, humidity, wind, and pressure), but Delene highlights cloud size, concentration, habits, and total water content as key measurements.
These probes include the Cloud Droplet Probe, Cloud Imaging Probe, Precipitation Imaging Probe, and the Particle Habit and Imaging and Polar Scattering Probe to measure the number and size of cloud particles. The Nevzorov Probe and Hot Wire Probe will measure cloud liquid and total water content.
Delene says the U.S. Navy has a keen interest in modeling clouds on a global scale. Its MCR system is one of the most advanced radars on the planet.
UND’s research using data collected during the July flights will help the Navy understand the system’s abilities and limitations as they pertain to weather monitoring and forecasting, he says.
The project is also a great opportunity for UND students to work at a high level, using a combination of the best observational equipment in the field of atmospheric sciences.
“We’ll have several graduate students involved that will fly on the plane, run the data systems and make sure instruments are performing correctly during flights,” Delene said. “They’ll also process the data right after the flights and examine them. After the fieldwork for the project is over, it’s going to form the basis of multiple thesis projects.”
“This is a significant project with a lot of measurements, and a lot of top-notch scientists, that highlights what we can do at the University of North Dakota, in terms of airborne research,” Delene said. “This public-private partnership is the start of a new era, which is already leading to multiple joint projects, and hopefully many more significant opportunities in the future.”