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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: 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