NASA's IPHEx Field Campaign Lands Here in the Carolinas - myfoxcarolinas.com

NASA's IPHEx Field Campaign Lands Here in the Carolinas

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NASA's D3R (left) and NPOL (right) Radars on site in Rutherfordton, NC NASA's D3R (left) and NPOL (right) Radars on site in Rutherfordton, NC
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Rutherfordton, NC - Driving down Lambs Grill Road, you’ll see homes, farmland, and through June 15th, two state of the art radars.

The site is causing quite the buzz in Rutherfordton, and has people driving up the gravel road asking David Wolff and his team what they are up to.

It’s a question David, a NASA research scientist and meteorologist, is more than happy to answer.

We're here for two purposes. One is to help validate a global satellite launched by NASA on February 27th, called a Global Precipitation Measurement Mission. And also we're here to help with a field campaign to do that same job, which is with Duke University and NOAA.”

The team is part of the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) Field Campaign. In short, it’s a ground validation campaign that is taking place in the Appalachian Mountains.

While you may think of the final frontier when you hear NASA, there’s no better planet to study and understand than our own. This field campaign will help continue improving forecasts for you and your loved ones.

The campaign began on May 1st and their goal is to see how well the precipitation-monitoring satellites correspond to what we are measuring on the ground. They will also use the data they record to help evaluate how atmospheric models are behaving when it comes to the hydrology of our region.

The research isn’t limited to Rutherford County. There are a number of ground based instruments and other radars in the Pigeon River Basin and the Catawba River Basin. All aimed at understanding the precipitation and hydrology around the area.

Rob Beauchamp, a research assistant at Colorado State University and member of the field campaign, says this research is “Helping us target areas like North Carolina and South Carolina. How do the mountains affect precipitation and then the water flow from that downstream. These field campaigns we're doing with NASA, it's really a part of getting a more detailed understanding of specific geographical locations and areas.”

First, a little radar 101. Radars send out pulses of microwave energy. These microwaves travel at the speed of light and the pulses bounce off particles in the atmosphere. When they encounter particles such as rain, sleet, hail, etc., some of the energy is scattered back to the antenna on the radar.

If there is a large number of particles and they are bigger in size, the return signal will be higher. And larger rain drops are related to heavier rainfall rates.

Think of it like this: greater the size/number = greater return signal. That’s why the reds and pinks on the radar are associated with heavy rain or hail and the lighter greens mean light rainfall.

The larger of the two radars, is known as NASA’s Polarized S-band radar, or NPOL for short. It is a scanning dual-polarimetric radar and is one of two S-band systems in the entire world that is mobile and can be transported. NPOL is the latest in radar technology and is similar to the National Weather Service radars.

What do we mean by dual-polarimetric? That means the radar has not only a horizontal component, but a vertical one as well. Having horizontal and vertical pulses allows the radar to more accurately determine a hydrometeors’ shape, type and size.

“This radar is actually NASA’s premier radar. It allows us to actually discriminate between rain, sleet, hail and snow…It’s our ability to detect different types of particles and what we call hydrometeors in the atmosphere that allows us to do a much better estimate of the rainfall and the rain rates,” said David.

Don’t let the size of the Dual-frequency, Dual-polarization, Doppler Radar (D3R) fool you though. It was developed by NASA and Colorado State University and packs quite the punch.

David describes the D3R as “A polarized radar, but it also has two frequencies. And those frequencies match the radar that's on board the GPM satellite, so when we're comparing overpasses with GPM and the D3R we'll be able to kind of match apples and apples.”

The frequencies see precipitation in different ways. Higher frequencies are more sensitive to smaller particles (such as ice and light rain) in the atmosphere while lower frequencies work better for moderate precipitation.

The team can compare what the radar sees with what the satellite sees and fine tune mathematic algorithms on the satellite.

“The same frequencies are trying to really look at how does a ground radar see precipitation so we can compare to what the satellite is seeing to help enhance algorithms that the satellite uses and to just better understand precipitation from different points of view,” explained Rob.

Essentially validating and improving upon the methods used when the satellite and radar agree with one another. And when the two don’t see eye to eye, diving deeper into the physics of why they don’t match up.

The goal of the campaign is greater than the Carolinas, even greater than the United States. The results have global implications. The work done here can improve flash flood forecasting, mudslide forecasting and help map precipitation all over the world.

Rob realizes how the mission reaches around the world. “Part of the GPM Mission, when we’re looking at some of the sub-arctic, is really when we get that snowfall, if we can measure it with radars and then it starts to melt, how does that really affect the global water cycle.”

So take a drive out to Lambs Grill Road and you’ll have the opportunity to see cutting-edge research and technology up close. David and his team welcome and encourage visitors. It’s something you’ll never forget, come rain or shine.

Learn more about the IPHEx Field Campaign
here


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