New NOAA technology to study air-sea interactions sets sail

New NOAA technology to study air-sea interactions sets sail

BY STEPHEN A. SCHAPIRO | SPECIAL TO GCN

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Environmental Technology Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., has developed the first wind profiler permanently installed aboard a research ship.

'It does take a significant step forward in technology,' said Madison Post, chief of the lab's Technology Transfer Group and the project manager. 'NOAA now has an instrument that will greatly aid the study of air-sea interactions at sea, and provide critically needed wind measurements off shore to improve NOAA forecasts of coastal severe weather.'


New technology aboard NOAA's Ronald H. Brown provides wind measurements off shore to improve coastal forecasting.
The groundbreaking instrument is aboard the Ronald H. Brown research ship.

A wind profiler is a radar that sends pulses of energy upward and gets echoes back from the atmosphere. It scatters off of clear-air turbulence, which moves with the wind, resulting in a Doppler shift. With the new instrument, scientists can deduce wind speed and direction.

Profilers are typically based on land, but 'a lot of action of the climate is the interaction between the ocean and atmospheric energy as it moves between the equator and the poles...It is a totally different process over land,' Post said.

To deal with extreme temperatures, rough seas and ocean spray, scientists designed an antenna array with electronic controls and a new signal processor.

The profiler, which NOAA installed on the Brown last year, has three 550-MHz Pentium PCs. Scientists retrieve data via a LAN connection.

The system includes a split backplane, which lets two computers be housed in the same chassis for added compactness, said Bob Webber, the project's signal processing expert.

One computer operates the radar, controlling the antenna used for collecting data. That information is shipped to the second computer within the same unit for signal processing. As the ship pitches and rolls, the beam sent into the atmosphere wobbles. In the past, gyroscopic platforms were used to stabilize an antenna. But the Brown's movements are tracked electronically and the motion is subtracted by the signal processor, Webber said. The third computer provides real-time data processing.

All radars produce a Doppler spectrum, and atmospheric components have a Doppler shift, meaning the signal returns with a different frequency than was sent out.

The system costs about $1 million to develop but could be reproduced for about $500,000, Post said.

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