Field Photos: Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field campaign

Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) is the second major field campaign for the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) Portable Atmospheric Research Center (SPARC), a specially designed vehicle equipped with a suite of ground-based instruments used for studying the atmosphere.

From 1 June-15 July 2015, the SPARC research team joins hundreds of other scientists (and myriad instrumentation) from around the country in order to learn more about elevated convection and potentially dangerous thunderstorms that form at night  – common phenomena in the Great Plains, though poorly understood.

Scientists want to better understand atmospheric conditions that lead to nighttime thunderstorms in order to improve forecasts and public safety. Lessons learned from PECAN may be applied to other regions around the world where similar types of storms develop at night.

The campaign, supported by the NSF, NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Department of Energy, is the first major coordinated effort of its kind. While PECAN is based out of Hays, Kansas, research teams with mobile units, such as SSEC’s SPARC, will travel with their instruments throughout the region, wherever the nighttime convective weather may take them.

These photos follow the SPARC and its crew as they journey across the Great Plains — at late hours of the night and early morning, and in hard-to-predict weather conditions — collecting as much pre-convective data as possible.

  • Slide 0

    The SSEC Portable Atmospheric Research Center (SPARC) deployed near McCracken, Kansas, during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field campaign.

    Credit: Tim Wagner, SSEC.

  • Slide 1

    An unprecedented number of Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer (AERI) instruments were installed for PECAN. AERI PI Jonathan Gero, with technical support from SSEC scientist Denny Hackel and UW-Madison undergraduate student Coda Phillips, spent three weeks in May-June 2015 installing a network of eight AERIs (six fixed sites and two mobile units) across the Great Plains.

    Credit: Jon Gero, SSEC.

  • Slide 2

    A double rainbow appeared during the SSEC team’s three-week trip installing AERIs for PECAN.

    Credit: Jon Gero, SSEC.

  • Slide 3

    A panoramic view of the mobile instruments and vehicles involved in the experiment on the opening day of PECAN. The SPARC is pictured at the far right.

    Credit: Jon Gero, SSEC.

  • Slide 4

    The SPARC and its array of ground-based instruments deployed on an Intensive Operations Period (IOP) in Cimarron, Kansas. During an IOP, the SPARC (along with the other three mobile units, six fixed sites, and three aircraft) collects environmental data to better understand the pre-convective conditions that allow storms to form at night.

    Credit: Tim Wagner, SSEC.

  • Slide 5

    The SPARC’s WindPro lidar system uses reflected laser light to record wind speed and direction profiles from the ground.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 6

    Tim Wagner launches a weather balloon at sunset on a deployment near McCracken, Kansas. An attached radiosonde will transmit data back to a receiving station inside the SPARC.

    Credit: Lee Cronce, SSEC.

  • Slide 7

    A panoramic image of the SPARC during an Intensive Observation Period, while a shelf cloud (low, horizontal, turbulent cloud formation) approaches.

    Credit: David Loveless, SSEC.

  • Slide 8

    Lightning flashes beyond the SPARC on a deployment in Kingsdown, Kansas.

    Credit: Tim Wagner, SSEC.

  • Slide 9

    PECAN is headquartered at the Fort Hays State University campus. Its central location and wide open spaces make Hays an ideal home base for the experiment.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 10

    SSEC scientist Erik Olson and UW-Madison undergraduate student Coda Phillips set up the software for the WindPro lidar system during a deployment in Oklahoma.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 11

    The team prepares for a weather balloon launch in Oklahoma. Weather balloons, launched at various locations in tandem, carry devices called radiosondes that transmit data back to the ground.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 12

    The High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) beam from the SPARC trailer illuminates the night sky in Hays, KS. The HSRL uses pulses of green laser light to detect aerosols.

    Credit: Tim Wagner, SSEC.

  • Slide 13

    During a down day (no Intensive Operations Period scheduled), the SSEC team does maintenance, cleaning, and repair work on the SPARC.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 14

    At the maintenance garage in Hays, SSEC scientists Erik Olson and Wayne Feltz discuss the mechanics involved in building a mobile lab like the SPARC.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 15

    A row of mesonets, automated weather stations designed to observe mesoscale meteorological phenomena, parked in a row in McCook, Nebraska.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 16

    UW-Madison graduate student Michelle Feltz sets up the SPARC’s helium tanks, while undergraduate student Coda Phillips assembles the Surface Meteorology (SurfaceMet) station, which records outdoor meteorology statistics such as wind speed and direction, air temperature, and relative humidity.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 17

    Students Coda Phillips and Michelle Feltz assemble the SPARC’s anemometer. The device, which measures wind speed and direction, is helpful for validating data collected by the other instruments.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 18

    Students Coda Phillips and Michelle Feltz erect the anemometer, the last of the SPARC instrumentation. During an Intensive Operations Period, the team aims to complete set-up tasks by nightfall, to avoid working in the dark.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

  • Slide 19

    Graduate student Michelle Feltz, undergraduate Coda Phillips, and SSEC scientist Erik Olson launch a radiosonde from fairgrounds in Stockville, Nebraska. This deployment lasted until about 3:00 a.m. local time.

    Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.