SF State News {University Communications}

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News Release


Weather monitoring system on wheels strengthens research on climate, air quality

SF State and San Jose State acquire unique atmospheric profiling system with stimulus funds


SAN FRANCISCO, March 23, 2011 -- Weather reports may track storm systems and fronts, but it is some of the smallest interactions between the Earth and the air above it that drive local weather patterns and air quality. Aided by a unique portable meteorology monitoring system, researchers at San Francisco State University and San Jose State University are embarking on new efforts to map the weather that unfolds in the lowest few hundred meters of the atmosphere.

Fitted with wheels and a telescopic 100-foot tower, the new facility allows scientists to quickly deploy a cache of state-of-the-art instruments in locations as diverse as city streets, alpine meadows and wildfire sites. The CSU Mobile Atmospheric Profiling System (CSU-MAPS) opens up new possibilities for research on San Francisco's fog and microclimates, the behavior of wildfires and the identification of potential wind energy sites in California.

"This is much more than a weather station," said Andrew Oliphant, associate professor of geography at SF State. "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."

CSU-MAPS was acquired with an $800,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, jointly awarded by the National Science Foundation to SF State and San Jose State. The system is believed to be the only mobile meteorological profiling system of its type in the California State University (CSU) and the state of California. 

In the densely populated Bay Area, Oliphant will use the new facility to measure how building cities and changing land use have an impact on weather, pollution and climate change. "When we build cities and change land use, we alter the micro-scale dynamics of the atmosphere," said Oliphant, who will use the new instrumentation to compare microclimates in different San Francisco neighborhoods. Research results could ultimately lead to improved 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.

CSU-MAPS includes two remote sensing devices that measure temperature, humidity and 3-dimensional wind fields. It's 100-foot tower can also measure miniscule exchanges of energy, water vapor and carbon dioxide, for example the exchanges that take place when water vapor forms clouds or when plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which improves air quality.

"CSU-MAPS will enable, for the first time, a way to measure complex fire winds that are generated by wildfires," said Craig Clements, assistant professor of meteorology at San Jose State University. "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 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. Mounted on a 20-foot trailer, the system can be driven to monitoring positions in safety zones near large wildfire plumes and can be moved if the fire changes course.

Clements and Oliphant will use the new equipment to investigate local wind circulations in the mountain valleys of the Sierra Nevada, and their results could provide insights for park management in Yosemite National Park. They will study temperature inversions on Yosemite's valley floor, a phenomenon which traps smoke from campfires. CSU-MAPS will also help the researchers track the path of pollution, which is being transported from the Central Valley toward Yosemite's sensitive ecosystems.

In more than 20 classes at multiple campuses, CSU-MAPS will be used to teach tomorrow's weather forecasters and other students studying oceanography, geography and engineering.

SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls more than 30,000 students each year and graduates about 7,000 annually. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University’s more than 180,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.

San Jose State -- Silicon Valley's largest institution of higher learning with 29,000 students and 3,190 employees -- is part of the California State University system. SJSU's 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation's 10th largest city.


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For media queries about the Mobile Atmospheric Profiling System, contact Elaine Bible in University Communications at San Francisco State University at (415) 405-3606 or ebible@sfsu.edu


Andrew Oliphant, associate professor of geography at San Francisco State University can be reached at (415) 405-2143 or andrewo@sfsu.edu


Craig Clements, assistant professor of meteorology at San Jose State University can be reached at (408) 924-1400 or clements@met.sjsu.edu


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