On the edge of Seneca Lake, the HWS campus and its surrounding area often are used as a natural laboratory for scientific study, a testing ground for students to explore.
Recently, on a stunning spring day, students taking GEO 265 “Weather Measurements” capitalized on that ease of accessibility when they took to the field during a recent weather balloon launch and data collection project held near Odell’s Pond.
Working with Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nicholas Metz, the students gained firsthand experience with data collection and using meteorological equipment to gather information about atmospheric conditions.
“We’ve been preparing for this in class over the past few weeks, but it’s really these kinds of hands on projects that are the best way to learn, especially with atmospheric sciences,” said Cierra Lang ’14, a member of the “Weather Measurements” course. “Experiencing the field work for ourselves really helps to make the material click.”
An environmental studies major with both geoscience and economics minors, Lang said she enjoys the field research projects because it not only supplements what’s learned from in-class lectures and her own studies, but also as a key point of preparation in getting ready for employment after graduation.
“In class, we’ve really covered this topic well,” Lang said. “But out here in the field you really get to see and understand exactly how it works and see how meteorologists might work on a daily basis. This enables us to even get a sense of certain careers.”
At the launch, which took place on William C. Stiles ’43 Field, students used a measuring device called a rawinsonde attached to a helium-filled weather balloon to gather profile data of wind direction and speed, temperature, humidity, and pressure in the troposphere to a height of about 11 km. They also used two different theodolite systems, one manual and the other set up digitally through iPads, to track pilot balloons to determine wind speed and direction in the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere.
Laird said one goal of the project was to compare the use of the different theodolites and the ease and extent to which participants would be able to take the measurements. The “Weather Measurements” course doesn’t have a separate lab section, so having the chance to include fieldwork was an important academic offering for the students. “We’ve been very fortunate with great opportunities to mix work in the classroom and in the field,” Laird said.
Laird said the weather balloon launch follows a project from earlier in the semester in which students of “Weather Measurements” among other classes were able to access and use two Doppler-on-Wheels mobile weather radars managed and operated by the Center for Severe Weather Research. That project was made possible through a National Science Foundation grant, allowing for an extensive education and outreach project that gave students a richer understanding of atmospheric science, severe weather, and weather radar systems.
As she helped to prepare weather balloons for the morning launch, Nicole Desko ’15, a geoscience major, said it’s the field research that really intrigues her and helps to complement the rest of the course.
“The opportunities to learn in the field are awesome and it makes me want to learn more,” Desko said. “It’s great to take a class where you go out in the field to do research.”
Geoscience major Philip Kaplan ’14 agrees, adding that it’s not just the field experience on and around campus that are important. Kaplan says he participated in a similar weather balloon data collection project during the geoscience field studies course held in Hawaii last year.
“That was a great experience being able to use meteorological instruments and taking measurements in Hawaii,” he said.