The University of Tennessee Space Institute’s Flight Research Group Flies Land-Atmosphere Feedback Experiment Mission

The University of Tennessee Space Institute’s Flight Research Group
Flies Land-Atmosphere Feedback Experiment Mission


Jonathan Kolwyck, Dr. Steve Brooks, and Greg Heatherly pose with the international field study group in
front of the UTSI Piper Navajo Research Aircraft during the August LAFE study in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
Photo by: Dr. Andreas Behrendt (Univ. of Hohenheim)

The University of Tennessee Space Institute’s Flight Research Group participated in the
Land-Atmosphere Feedback Experiment (LAFE) in August, along with a consortium of government
agencies and universities including the Department of Energy (DOE), National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of Hohenheim (Germany), University of
Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Oklahoma. The experiment occurred at the Southern Great
Plains (SGP) Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility site near
Ponca City, Oklahoma.
The LAFE experiment’s purpose was to investigate the feedback mechanisms that occur
between different types of land surface types and the overlying atmosphere in order to implement
better weather prediction models. Essentially, the experiment aimed to understand how the
atmospheric boundary layer responds to the unequal heating of the Earth’s surface due to the different
land surface types. The effect of surface temperature, vegetation type, and soil moisture on the
amount of the sun’s radiation energy absorbed by the land and released into the atmosphere were
studied in order to obtain better atmospheric boundary layer turbulence models for integration into
larger meteorological models.
The Flight Research Group provided several mapping flights over the area using their remote
imaging pod that integrates a hyperspectral camera, LiDAR instrument, and thermal camera system
underneath the belly of the UTSI Piper Navajo research aircraft. During intensive observational
periods, thermal and hyperspectral images of the experiment area were collected to quantify surface
temperatures and land surface types. Additional study participants provided remote sensors deployed
to the site including several LiDAR instruments for the measurement of temperature, moisture, and
wind; microwave radiometers; atmospheric emitted radiance interferometers; and four 10 meter flux
towers for the measurement of momentum, sensible heat, latent heat, and CO2 fluxes. In addition to
these instruments, weather balloons were launched several times per day to investigate atmospheric
parameters including temperature, pressure, and humidity profiles.

Written by: Jonathan Kolwyck