During the spring semester, the Earth Science 488: Boundary Layer and Turbulence class taught by professor Dr. Greg Blumberg successfully deployed a network of kites to collect measurements. These kites have two primary purposes: research and education about the Planetary Boundary Layer, a layer of the atmosphere that starts at the earth’s surface and is about a mile or two thick.
The kites were provided by the Aerokats and Rover Educational Network. “This is a NASA Science Activation Team which aims to introduce NASA technology and practices in authentic, experimental learning environments,” says Blumberg. Some kites are used in lighter wind conditions (3 mph), whereas others are better for flying in faster winds (25 mph).
The instruments they fly measure how the temperature, humidity and wind change with height. During one training with the ESCI 448 students, they got all three sensors up simultaneously at Biemesderfer Stadium. This has never been done before and gave them a good chance to compare the different measurements.
“Even though we all live in the Planetary Boundary Layer, it’s a very under-observed part of the atmosphere. It changes rapidly through the day and can impact a lot of hazardous phenomena like pollution or thunderstorm intensity. Kite-based observations can give us a better sense of what variability exists in the PBL,” says Blumberg.
Before launching the kites, Blumberg and his students performed a hazard inventory where they surveyed the area and identified possible obstacles. “Usually, we identify things like trees, buildings, or powerlines. If there are strong wind gusts, it can be tiring to control the kite. The goal here is to build situational awareness so no one gets hurt,” he explains. Students also build skills by using computerized data tools widely used in the meteorology community to analyze data.
Blumberg used the kites to help teach the ESCI 448: Boundary Layers and Turbulence. Students in his class fly the kites and collect data about the Planetary Boundary Layer as a class project. He designed the project with several things in mind. A key part of launching the kites is conducting a hazard inventory first, which can double as a site survey that may reveal insights about PBL phenomena that might exist. They talk about safety practices, which has a direct tie-in to talk about what was learned from the Challenger and Columbia accidents. Students also build skills by using computerized data analysis tools widely used in the meteorology community to analyze the data.
This exercise offers students a hands-on opportunity to apply concepts they learned. In class, they review different scenarios to learn how land characteristics influence atmospheric turbulence and boundary layer structures. The weather conditions along an urbanized Delaware beach can be quite different than in a central Pennsylvania valley filled with trees. So, not only does the hazard inventory help with safety, but students develop some initial explanation as to how the land surface characteristics at their flying site might be influencing the atmosphere.
“The primary equipment that takes the measurements is called an AeroPod, which is a NASA-licensed technology. The AeroPod is an aerodynamically stabilized platform where you can place a sensor or two on the front. The platform looks like a small airplane, and the “wings” help it turn into the wind,” says Blumberg.
For more information about the Earth Sciences program, visit MU ESCI Program.