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Climate Monitoring Goes Mobile

Scientists now have the capability to document atmospheric and climate change at locations nearly anywhere in the world, thanks to a new mobile atmospheric monitoring system developed at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Atmospheric Remote Sensing Laboratory, called PARSL, is a complete climate-measuring system that can be taken to nearly any site quickly and easily. This unique ability to be transported to a specific geographic location is critical, said Jim Mather, a senior research scientist at PNNL.

“We can conduct research wherever the need exists by simply loading the equipment on a flat-bed trailer for transport or even placing it in a cargo container for ocean travel,” said Mather. “Its instrumentation can be up and operational at a remote site within 48 hours of arrival.” Having immediate access to newly gathered data is another important feature. “A major advantage of PARSL is its ability to complete an experiment and make the data immediately available,” said Tom Ackerman, chief scientist at PNNL. “Our team can download information directly onto a compact disc or Web site where scientists located anywhere in the world can gain instant access.”

The suite of instruments that make up PARSL will allow researchers to closely focus on key elements that contribute to climate change. In particular, scientists are interested in the amount of solar energy collected at the earth’s surface and the atmospheric conditions influencing that change.

Two cloud radar systems and a pulsed laser system—also known as a lidar—measure cloud properties such as vertical structure and moisture content. Dust, smoke and other air impurities are measured using a lidar combined with radiometers, which detect the amount of solar energy transmitted through the atmosphere at multiple wavelengths.

The total amount of solar energy reaching the earth’s surface is measured with a variety of instruments to characterize how that energy interacts with the atmosphere.

Standard meteorological variables such as temperature, humidity and wind speed also are collected. Comprehending how solar energy interacts with the many variables within our atmosphere will help scientists better understand the earth’s climate and climate change.

While instruments that make up PARSL were chosen with issues related to climate change in mind, the remote laboratory also is capable of assisting researchers in the study of air quality and is expected to help improve existing weather prediction models.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a DOE research facility and delivers breakthrough science and technology in the areas of environment, energy, health, fundamental sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated PNNL for DOE since 1965.