Update on weather station

Weather station MkII

Weather station MkII

A brief post on the weather station saga. A few weeks ago (at least), the anemometer (which measures wind speed) stopped working on my weather station. So yesterday, Dr Turnip (who is himself going viral in the blogosphere, eg here, here and here) and I took the weather station back to the shop (again) and this time, we just got a whole new weather station!

So, although I have a brand new weather station — which will hopefully last a bit longer than the last — I have lost almost 6 months worth of (admittedly shoddy) data. If I’d thought that they’d replace the unit entirely and take the old one, I’d have downloaded the last ~2 months data that was on it. But I didn’t predict that, so now it’s gone.

But, today’s a new day, and the weather station is up and running, so hopefully I’ll be able to collect some slightly dodgy met data once more!


Anti-spider defences?


Although this photo doesn’t have much to do with my post, they were awesome clouds (possibly mammatus, if I squint a bit?) that I observed with my own eyes from the location of the weather station.

How can I keep spiders out of my weather station?

I hadn’t thought about this problem until spiders, and specifically their webs, stopped my rain gauge from working. This happened a few months ago, and it continues to happen regularly. The spiders attach webs to the moving parts of the rain gauge so it never tips, and if it never tips, it never registers any rainfall!

I suspect that regular cleaning is the only way to sort this out, but I am lazy and I dislike spiders, so this is an unlikely solution… The other week I removed the louvredcasing to inspect the batteries (it had stopped transmitting data) and three huge spiders flew out as I slid the louvres off. It was pretty gross, as only one of the spiders remained alive past this point. The last one standing didn’t stand for much longer either. I’m pretty sure it was these spiders that sabotaged the data transmission in some arachnid conspiracy to try and stop me collecting sub-optimal highly non-standard observations. They aren’t doing a bad job, as we had to replace the part entirely, and in the process of trying to fix it we wiped all the observations for the last 3 or 4 months. OOPS. I was rather looking forward to continuing the graph of the oddball rainfall we’ve been having this year.

So if anyone has ideas on how I can make my weather station spider-proof, PLEASE let me know!

Photo diary from flights around the Arctic

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Here are a few snaps from the MAMM field campaign (July 2012). We went flying on the FAAM research aircraft, kitted out to measure many gases, aerosols, and other meteorological parameters. The main aim was to search out Arctic sources … Continue reading

Arctic methane, here we come!

A quick snap of Stockholm, Sweden, today. Lucky it’s not possible to get to Kiruna from London in a single day, eh?

Today, I’m setting off for Sweden, to take part in field work for a project about Arctic methane (MAMM – methane in the Arctic, measurements and modelling). The research aircraft is going to be based in Kiruna, Sweden, and will be arriving there tomorrow. We’ve got a stop over in Stockholm to get there on a commercial flight, as we can’t do the journey in one day. It really is quite far north – the northernmost town in Sweden, where I don’t think it even gets dark at this time of year!

The aim of the project is to find out more about the methane (CH4) emissions in the Arctic, which are not very well known. Not only are the measurements in the Arctic quite sparse, as it’s rather remote, but the emissions are also very variable. One large source is wetlands, where bacteria produce methane (I’m no biologist, but wikipedia has an entry on wetland methane emissions). As the temperature increases, more methane is emitted. There are widespread wetlands in Scandinavia, and we have colleagues taking measurements there at the moment. Hopefully we will be able to fly over them and take more measurements, so we will be able to observe methane on the local scale, and the larger scale by the aircraft. Another source of methane is from “thermokarst lakes”. These are lakes that are frozen in winter and melt in the spring/summer, which releases methane.

One possible outcome of any Arctic warming is that there could be a positive feedback. This is because methane is a strong greenhouse gas (it is many times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, which I could go into in another post). Local emissions of methane will cause a local warming. As increased temperatures lead to more melting, and more release of methane, you can see how this could continue on and on! There is also a hypothesis that increases temperatures in the Arctic could be contributing to the bizarrely south-of-the-UK jet stream that we currently have, which has brought us immense amounts of rain. More on that on the Met Office blog.

So, what will I be doing for my field work, seeing as I usually live in the model world? Well, so far this week, I’ve been part of the group who are flight planning. We’ve been keeping a close eye on the forecasts for the European Arctic region, to try and plan the most suitable places to fly each day. We’re only flying Friday through to Monday, so we don’t have much room for manoeuvre, as it were. We want to link up some of the wetlands aircraft measurements with satellite measurements, but the satellite can only measure when there’s no cloud. Unfortunately, it’s looking like it might be cloudy at various times over the weekend.

We also want to go north to Svalbard. Hopefully we won’t see polar bears. What we do want to see is some methane coming out form the ocean. There is an undersea ridge, where methane trapped inside clathrates is released. There is definitely methane coming out form the vents (see a paper by Fisher et al, which I’ll have to find the link for later), but the question is whether it all dissolves in the water, or is some escapes to the atmosphere.  We shall hopefully find out more over the weekend!

So, that’s just a quick brain dump of what’s going on in my head just at the moment, while I’m on the train to London. Hopefully I’ll have time for more brain dumps over the weekend!

When it rains, it pours!

Rainfall at my weather station for first half of 2012

Rainfall at my weather station for the first half of 2012, alongside 1971-2000 averages for the Met Office’s station at Bedford. See how we caught up once the hosepipe ban kicked in! (Click to see full size.)

Can you guess when the hosepipe ban started? It was on the 5th of April. By the end of April we were catching up with the cumulative average. I guess we should all be joyous that the rains have finally come, and we aren’t running low any longer. It’s about time too!

So, to backtrack a bit. Dr Turnip got me a fancy-pants weather station for Christmas (the one he wanted to buy was out of stock, so he went for the next one up!), and so I am now able to plot up my extremely local weather data, which has been collected on the very non-standard roof of our canal boat. Despite being a pretty cool bit of kit, it’s not a very good location for collecting weather data as the boat rocks about a bit, and the boat will radiate heat and reflect light from the roof, and the marina is surrounded by trees, which deflect the wind.

So, every quarter (ish) I download the data and take a quick look. As we were in drought earlier in the year, and then we had such a lot of rain more recently, I thought I’d plot it up and share. The graph shows cumulative rainfall from my rough-and-ready weather station since January. I was a bit negligent and didn’t download the data in time, so there’s a gap in April where the data was over-written. I’ve also plotted up the Met Office 1971-2000 monthly averages for their Bedford station (which can be found at http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/averages/19712000/sites/bedford.html). This shows that in the first three months of 2012, here in the south east of England we were much drier than usual. Then the hosepipe ban came into force of 5th April, and everyone started sacrificing their lawns, flower beds and car hygiene in the name of the rain god.

Then in April, we started to see more rain than average, which was totally unrelated to the sacrificial lawns, I’m pretty sure. (NB the totals in my plot are a bit off for March and April because of my lost week which fell over the 1st April. Hah! What a fool I am.) My total for 23 March – 30 April was 90mm. This would equate to about 71mm for a 30 day period, and the average for April in Bedford is 47mm — so we got 50% extra free this April! Bargain!

The River Great Ouse overspilling

I took this photo in Bedford on 2 May 2012. This tree is not usually in the middle of the river… that was down to the bonus rainfall we had in April.

And then May was only slightly above average. But then June. Well. We got 66% extra free. That’s 66% more than usual. And it really felt it. And lo – we caught up with and surpassed the average year-to-date rainfall. Sounds good, right? Not entirely. As you can see from my photo above, the River Great Ouse in Bedford burst its banks. Luckily, we didn’t have it too bad here. Others in parts of the UK had their homes and possessions ruined by flooding, and some poor souls even lost their lives. This kind of unusual weather means that we often aren’t prepared to deal with it. And if this kind of thing is going to become more common, we’ll have to adapt. (One reason why I live in a boat!) But the $64,000 question (in fact, it’s worth a whole lot more than that) is: is our climate is changing to one that has more of these extreme weather events? Only time will tell for sure. But one thing I can say for sure now: by then, the damage will already be done.

That ends on a a bit of a downer. So to pick things up again, check out this article and cool video: http://www.channel4.com/news/met-office-rain-plane-on-course-to-chase-storms. It’s about some work that people are doing using the UK’s atmospheric research aircraft, which I have done/will do field work on. Lots of people are working on finding out more about severe weather and predicting it (not me though). So things aren’t all doom and gloom!

Contrails, digested

I’ve written a post on the NCAS Climate blog. Check it out here: http://ncas-climate.nerc.ac.uk/ncas-science-blog/237-science-blog-contrails-digested

contrails NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org

Contrails and cirrus, as seen from the International Space Station, NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org

Alternatively, read the text here. But do click through to the NCAS blog too, as there are some other interesting posts about climate science (including oceans, crops, blue blobs of death…) by other climate scientists.

Contrails, digested

I noticed that a new journal has just been launched – Nature Climate Change – and thought it would be a good source of inspiration for a blog post. Luckily for me, there was an interesting paper about contrails by Burkhardt and Kärcher in the first issue, AND there was a piece in the news and views section by Boucher about the paper. So I thought I’d do a kind of a ‘digested read, digested’ for this paper about contrails.

For the uninitiated, contrails are the line-shaped clouds that you sometimes see in the wake of aircraft in the sky. Contrails form when hot, moist exhaust from aircraft at cruising altitudes is emitted into the cold, dry air, and the water condenses (hence the name, which is a contraction of condensation trail). Contrails can spread out from their original line shape to cover much larger areas with cirrus (thin, wispy) cloud. This cirrus reflects some sunlight back to space (which cools the atmosphere), but it also absorbs infrared radiation coming from the Earth’s surface (warming the atmosphere), so the net effect is thought to be a warming. The interesting thing is that aircraft have the potential to punch above their weight (compared to other modes of transport) because of these contrails. Burkhardt and Kärcher developed a model of the formation, spreading and dissipation of contrails, so that they could see what effect the contrails had on the radiative forcing (a measure of the radiative imbalance of the atmosphere caused by a particular forcing agent; a positive value means a warming to the atmosphere, and a negative value means a cooling). What they found from their model might come as quite a surprise: that one of the biggest effects on climate from aircraft comes from the spreading out of contrails into cirrus clouds.

They found that the radiative forcing from the contrail cirrus as a whole was 9 times larger (37.5 mW m-2) than for line-shaped contrails alone (4 mW m-2). This is in comparison to a radiative forcing from aircraft emissions of carbon dioxide of 28 mW m-2. They also found that the contrail-induced cirrus reduced the amount of natural cirrus (-7 mW m-2), so the net effect was a 31 mW m-2 radiative forcing from contrail-induced cirrus. Put another way by Boucher: “Overall, and despite their short lifetime, contrails may have more radiative impact at any one time than all of the aviation-emitted carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the beginning of commercial aviation. It is important to note, however, that the emitted carbon dioxide would continue to exert a warming influence for much longer than contrails, should all aircraft be grounded indefinitely.” This work gives an interesting starting point for further investigation into both the climate effects of contrails, and potential climate change mitigation strategies. The Boucher article gives ideas on possible ways of reducing the radiative forcing caused by aircraft. I rather like the idea of reducing the water vapour in aircraft exhaust emissions (maybe releasing the water as ice instead), so the condensation trails don’t condense in the first place.

The Milky Way through a dust storm on a mountaintop

This is a beautiful time-lapse photograph sequence, taken by Terje Sorgjerd. I’d advise watching it on his vimeo page, so you can read about it too. It was taken on a mountain (3718m) in the Canary Islands, and captures some spectacular scenes of the Milky Way, cloud decks flowing over land and sea, a Saharan dust storm, and even some flowers and trees. So that should please astronomy geeks, metos, and people who simply like to look at beautiful scenery.

He’s also taken an aurora time-lapse, which is equally incredible. I shared it a little while back, but it was definitely worth watching a second time.