International Collaborative Experiments for Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (ICE-POP): Forecasting Snow is a Difficult Task in Pyeongchang

February 21st, 2018 by Ivan Arias

Gangneung and Daewallyeong, the cities where the Winter Olympics are taking place, have a unique characteristic for precipitation. The cold and dry front from Siberia converges with the moist air of the Korean East Sea to produce stratiform clouds that occasionally precipitate over the PyeongChang province. This condition where the precipitation comes from the east is difficult for forecasters to predict. When the clouds are formed from the west due to low pressure, prediction is difficult because the ground-based radar’s sensing is limited due to the complex orography. Thus, no matter whether snow comes from east or west, it is always hard for meteorologists to forecast weather it in this area. Nevertheless, snow clouds in the region have a particular characteristic, they normally form around 2 kilometers over the sea level.

On February 13th, the D3R Radar from NASA which is located near PyeongChang captured a low elevation snow formation coming from the west which can be seen in the following images.

On the left is D3R RHI Reflectivity image at Ku frequency band, and on the right is D3R PPI Reflectivity image at Ku frequency band.


Compound Weather Radar Map of Korea by KMA.

However, no other operational radars from Korea were able to see the snow coming because of the complex relief where outdoor Olympic venues are located. The image below, taken from the KMA website, shows no snow around the PyeongChang region.

The D3R images allowed KMA staff to predict unexpected snow three hours before it started. Television screen captures taken on this day from the NBC Olympics broadcast (below) show snowfall during the cross country classic spring competition.

Photos of NBC live streaming the Winter Olympic Games.

International Collaborative Experiments for Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (ICE-POP): Keeping an Eye on Weather During the Opening Ceremony

February 14th, 2018 by Ivan Arias

International Collaborative Experiments for Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (ICE-POP 2018) is a field campaign that is taking place during the 2018 Winter Olympics held at Pyeongchang, South Korea. It brings state of the art weather sensors from all over the world, and the Dual-frequency Dual-polarized Doppler radar (D3R) from NASA is among them. Around 30 agencies and organizations from 12 different countries are involved in this program including NASA, NOAA, Colorado State University, and the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) among others.

Some of the instruments including the D3R are located on the roof of the KMA, Daegwallyeong office as shown in the picture below.

Photo by Aaron Dabrowski.

On the the roof to the left is a scanning wind lidar from Canada. Next to it on the right is NASA’s D3R from United States, in the back is T-Rex UCLM from Spain, and in the far background of the picture a glimpse of Alpensia Olympic Park can be seen. With the main games happening just a few kilometers away, these instruments are useful for making better predictions of the weather.

Around 35,000 people and 16 state leaders attended the 2018 Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. However, what most of them were not aware of is that if a snow storm occurred on the day of event, it would be relocated to an indoor venue since the Pyeongchang Stadium does not have a roof. It was a tough day for the people checking all the ICE-POP instruments and monitoring the weather forecast. The most stressful part was when the radar captured some snow formations 6 hours before the ceremony started. However, close monitoring of the weather dynamics allowed the meteorologists from KMA to predict that no significant snow would reach Pyeongchang, so there was no need to make changes for the ceremony. The below picture shows staff at the KMA Daegwallyeong office during the opening ceremony.

Photo by Ivan Arias.

The ICE-POP group didn’t take their eyes off the sensors the entire night, except to see the fireworks. The below picture shows a view of the opening ceremony fireworks from the KMA Daegwallyeong office.

Photo by Kwonil Kim.

Goddard Instrument Field Team (GIFT): The Footsteps of Apollo Astronauts

February 5th, 2018 by Jake Bleacher

On our team’s last day at Kilbourne Hole, we were joined by retired astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the lunar module pilot for Apollo 17. He is the only professional geologist to have walked on the Moon and is still an active researcher.

Schmitt joined our 2017 excursion for very much the same reason that Butch Wilmore came: to provide feedback about the instruments and how they could be used during an EVA. He also helped the scientists investigate the local geology of Kilbourne Hole and how this feature developed.

Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt discusses the value of training astronauts in geology and the appeal of Kilbourne Hole, in particular. NASA/GSFC

Before our trip, Schmitt’s most recent visit to Kilbourne Hole had been about 45 years earlier, when he had gone there for Apollo 17 training. Apollo astronauts underwent field training in geology at various sites representing a range of geological features. Kilbourne Hole was one. Other locations used at various times included, but were not limited to, sites in western Texas, Hawaii, Arizona, California and Canada. Because of Schmitt’s expertise in geology, he helped train other Apollo astronauts in how to identify and collect interesting samples.

Among the training activities listed for Apollo 17 astronauts is a geology field trip for Eugene Cernan and Jack Schmitt to Kilbourne Hole on December 20 and 21, 1971. NASA

At Kilbourne Hole this time, Schmitt recalled how his training there had informed his interpretations of what he was observing on the Moon.

December 2017 marks the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17. Astronaut Jack Schmitt looks back on the mission and what it was like to set foot on the Moon.

The landing site for Apollo 17 was the Taurus-Littrow valley, a geologically intriguing area selected so that astronauts could collect samples of ancient rocks from the lunar highlands and look for evidence of young volcanic activity. There, Schmitt collected the “most interesting sample returned from the Moon.” It’s a rock known as sample #76535, which was collected as part of the rake sample at Station 6, located on the North Massif. Like the xenoliths we searched for at Kilbourne Hole, sample #76535 is olivine-rich. It’s a very old specimen that had not been damaged by shock events, and its origin is still being debated.

The olivine-rich Apollo 17 sample #76535 was measured at up to 5 centimeters across with a mass of 156 grams. NASA

Goddard Instrument Field Team (GIFT): Staying Afloat in a Sea of Data

February 2nd, 2018 by Jake Bleacher

One aspect of our work is studying is how different types of information can be combined to help the scientists understand the site from during and after an EVA. We brought an array of instruments and cameras, which I’ll describe below. We also brought a collaborator from Canada, Ben Feist, to explore ways to combine data to make the scenery and the work easy to visualize. He has done this before with Apollo 17 data, providing an immersive, you-are-here feeling.

Our collaborator Ben Feist. Courtesy of Ben Feist.

So what did we bring? To give us the big picture, we brought two unmanned aerial vehicles, one like a robotic plane (see image below), and the other a quad-copter. Both gave us excellent 2D horizontal views, and the data can even be used to make 3D models of the terrain. Butch Wilmore and Liz Rampe also wore cameras during their simulated EVAs.

The robotic plane is ready for launch at Kilbourne Hole. Courtesy of Ben Feist.

The unmanned aerial vehicle is great for horizontal views, but it’s not as helpful for viewing vertical surfaces. For a task like mapping cliffs at Kilbourne, or lava pits at Aden Crater, we need to combine the airborne instruments with surface cameras that also provide 3D views. The instrument we brought for this purpose was a lidar, which is similar in concept to radar except that it uses laser pulses to measure distances. Mounted on a tripod, the instrument scans across a panorama and then swivels all the way back to the starting point to take a series of pictures covering the same area. After the operator sets up the sweep, everyone has to make sure they stay out of the field of view while the lidar scans, a maneuver the team calls the “lidar dance.”

The lidar on its tripod. NASA/GSFC

Team members Patrick Whelley (left) and Jacob Richardson (right) set up the tripod-mounted lidar. NASA/GSFC

The team also set up a hyperspectral camera, which shows us what the landscape looks like in the thermal infrared region of the spectrum, where heat is sensed. This camera can identify rocks and soils based on the amount of energy emitted at various infrared wavelengths. This can be helpful for prioritizing which areas to target first and for documenting a site and providing the geologic context for the samples taken.

Team member Deanne Rogers from Stony Brook University explains the use of the hyperspectral camera. NASA/GSFC

To investigate the chemistry of the rocks, we brought a handheld X-ray fluorescence instrument, or XRF, which bombards a sample with high-energy radiation to measure how much the material fluoresces. That gives us information about the composition of the sample. We also brought a handheld laser-induced breakdown spectrometer, or LIBS, which vaporizes a small sample of rock to give us information about its composition.

Team member Kelsey Young explains the use of the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. NASA/GSFC

Team member Amy McAdam explains the use of the laser induced-breakdown spectrometer. NASA/GSFC

Goddard Instrument Field Team (GIFT): Reporting RIS4E

January 30th, 2018 by Jake Bleacher

Traveling with us were four journalism students from the Stony Brook University School of Journalism; their professor, Elizabeth Bass, the founding director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University; and teaching assistant Kevin Lizarazo. This group joined us in the field to see firsthand how research gets done. They hiked into the field day after day and documented just about every aspect of the trip, from the geology of the sites and the instruments we used to the personalities of our team members—even creating a gallery of our hats. All of their work has been synthesized and distilled into a multimedia-rich Reporting RIS4E website, created by the students under the supervision of Lizarazo.

Having students report from the field has been an essential part of RIS4E since the project was launched in 2014. The project leadership worked with the Stony Brook University School of Journalism and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science to create a course for students interested in science journalism that puts them in contact with researchers while they work. In 2015, the first group of students traveled with a RIS4E team to Hawaii’s Mount Kīlauea volcano.

The journalism students and teachers from Stony Brook University (left to right): Briana Lionetti, Kayla McKiski, Jake Bleacher, Nicola Shannon, Elizabeth Bass, Katherine Wright, and Kevin Lizarazo. Courtesy of Reporting RIS4E.

The land at Potrillo is desert, and temperatures were especially hot during our time in the field. On the first day, the thermometer registered 105 degrees Fahrenheit, making for a harsh introduction to the desert, as the Stony Brook journalists described in their “Dispatches from the Desert” blog.

The volcanic landscape is difficult terrain, and by the end of the trip, several pairs of boots had to be tossed in the trash, including these two. We can rate the field difficulty by how many pairs of boots don’t come home. Courtesy of Patrick Whelley.

The combination of explosive and effusive volcanic features creates a rugged terrain that can be difficult to walk on. For some in the group from Stony Brook, this was a new experience. I use the term “lava legs”—similar to sea legs—to refer to mastering walking on the uneven volcanic terrain. I awarded buttons to those who earned their lava legs on my trips.

Notes from the Field