Weather device rolls out new research possibilities

March 29 , 2011 -- Under rain-filled clouds and stormy skies, students had plenty of weather to measure when they gathered at SF State's Romberg Tiburon Center to learn about a new meteorological monitoring system on wheels.

Photo of CSU Mobile Atmospheric Profiling System (CSU-MAPS), a collection of state-of-the-art instruments mounted on a trailer with a 100-foot extendable tower.

CSU Mobile Atmospheric Profiling System (CSU-MAPS), a collection of state-of-the-art instruments mounted on a trailer with a 100-foot extendable tower.

The meteorology and oceanography students were the first class to work with the CSU Mobile Atmospheric Profiling System (CSU-MAPS), a unique tool acquired by SF State and San Jose State as part of a joint research initiative.

Mounted on a trailer with a 100-foot extendable tower, the new system allows faculty and students to quickly deploy a cache of state-of-the-art instruments in locations as diverse as city streets, coastal piers or alpine meadows. The device opens up new possibilities for faculty to research such topics as urban microclimates, the behavior of wildfires and the role of wetlands in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

"This is much more than a weather station," said Andrew Oliphant, associate professor of geography. "This sophisticated suite of instruments allows us to profile the structure of the lowest two kilometers of the atmosphere in great detail and measure exchanges of carbon dioxide, water and energy between the surface and the atmosphere."

Oliphant together with Craig Clements, assistant professor of meteorology at San Jose State, obtained CSU-MAPS with an $800,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from the National Science Foundation. It will be used across the CSU system. In addition to research projects, it will be used in more than 20 classes at multiple campuses, including meteorology, oceanography, geography and engineering.

CSU-MAPS is believed to be the only mobile meteorological profiling system of its type in the CSU and the state of California. The system includes two remote sensing devices -- one to measure temperature and humidity, and another that emits laser pulses to measure 3-dimensional wind fields.

Oliphant will use the new facility to measure how expanding cities and changing land use affects weather, pollution and climate change. "When we build cities and change land use, we alter the micro-scale dynamics of the atmosphere," said Oliphant. He will use the instrumentation to compare microclimates in San Francisco neighborhoods to improve urban planning and design. For example, with a better understanding of microclimates, city planners could increase the amount of park land and vegetation space, which naturally cools down hot neighborhoods and absorbs air pollutants.

Clements will use the new system to study how the atmosphere surrounding a wildfire influences the behavior of the fire and how the fire affects the local atmosphere. "These measurements will be used to develop and test fire behavior models, ultimately leading to improved wildfire prediction and increased firefighter and community safety," Clements said.

More information about CSU-MAPS:

-- Elaine Bible