As part of a major National Science Foundation (NSF) research project involving HWS, geoscience students Pamela Eck ’15, Caitlin Crossett ’15 and Chad Hecht ’14 recently took to the skies above the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario in a research aircraft outfitted to collect weather data. It was an opportunity that few other undergraduates ever get the chance to experience.
Each student joined the crew of the University of Wyoming King Air (UWKA) for single missions conducted for the NSF project, “Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems” (OWLeS), which has brought together more than a half-dozen colleges, universities and agencies across the country to collaborate on research in the Lake Ontario and Finger Lakes regions.
Key areas of the project include researching heavy snowfall, lake-effect snow storms, and boundary-layer meteorology. Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nick Metz are spearheading the Colleges’ involvement, which also has included weather forecasting and launching weather balloons.
“It’s been an awesome experience all around,” says Crossett. “It’s been a big opportunity to develop my weather forecasting skills and I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this kind of fieldwork. It’s great. As students, it will truly set us apart when looking into graduate school or employment.”
Crossett says her work as a student researcher for the OWLeS project has been invaluable for boosting her technical abilities and knowledge of atmospheric science. In addition to her chance to fly in the King Air, Crossett and a number of her classmates were involved in weather forecasting operations in the HWS Weather & Climate lab.
Hecht, who called his flight experience “second-to-none,” says that being involved has been an exceptional experience, particularly the ability to work with instruments and equipment used to monitor, collect and analyze data within the clouds.
HWS student researchers also involved with the overarching OWLeS project are: Brooke Adams ’16, Zachary Dameron ’16, Nicole Desko ’15, Raleigh Grysko ’15, Macy Howarth ’16 and Aboubacar Okeke-Diagne ’15.
In addition to UW’s involvement, HWS is joined by research groups from Millersville University, Pennsylvania State University, State University of New York – Oswego, University at Albany, University of Alabama in Huntsville, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and University of Utah.
Researchers and project scientists from several of the collaborating universities were also on the HWS campus every day during December and January to participate in daily weather briefings, project mission planning meetings, preliminary data analysis, and interacting with HWS students.
Larry Oolman, a senior research scientist with University of Wyoming and project manager for the King Air aircraft, says the flight missions carried out for the project were designed to collect data above and below the aircraft, as well as atmospheric and cloud data at flight level.
Each flight lasts about four hours with cruising altitude anywhere between 3,000- and 10,000-feet, he says. The King Air has been stationed about 25 minutes south of HWS at Penn Yan Airport where the students have prepared for missions and have been debriefed following their flights.
Oolman says student researchers who are invited to take part in missions are considered a member of the crew and are assigned duties involving the aircraft’s satellite communications.
In light of the students’ experience with the research aircraft missions, Metz says the students not only are getting important experience that can help them academically and for future careers, but also are helping to lay the foundation for analyses stemming from the OWLeS project and for future research.
“For the students, this is an unparalleled experience,” he says.
Flying each of the January project missions was Ahmad Bandani, a University of Wyoming research pilot. As a retired Naval Aviator, Bandani says it’s important for undergraduates to have access to fieldwork experience and be in direct contact with those conducting the research.
“This is a great opportunity for the students to be involved,” Bandani says. “They really get to see firsthand what’s going on inside the aircraft and how things work.”
Upon her return from one of the flight missions, Eck says the experience was not only exciting, but extremely informative.
“The OWLeS project has been great for me,” Eck says. “It’s been amazing to see all of the behind the scenes aspects of the research and work with the scientists. It’s really just incredible.”