To the casual observer, radars for weather and climate research silently go about their business, sending pulses of energy into the sky to bounce off of clouds and other particles overhead. The return signals feed into a computer where they are converted to data. Simple.

Scott Collis (image courtesy Argonne National Laboratory)
Scott Collis (image courtesy Argonne National Laboratory)
But Scott Collis is anything but a casual observer. And the ARM Climate Research Facility radar network is anything but simple.

"Working with the largest research network of radars in the world, from the Arctic to the tropics, is both a challenge and a privilege!" said Collis, a radar meteorologist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

"You cannot settle into a groove. Once you get comfortable looking at data from an Oklahoman supercell, you drop into thinking about how to deal with ice clutter in the North Slope of Alaska. Once you think you can just spend your time on tropical cumulus in Papua New Guinea, you end up trying to understand drizzle in the Azores. My job is anything but boring!" he added.

This enthusiasm, combined with a lot of talent and hard work, helped Collis earn the distinction of being named to Popular Science's "Brilliant 10" for the year 2013. Announced yesterday, this group represents researchers under 40 who have made revolutionary contributions to their fields. The Brilliant 10 appears in the October 2013 issue of the magazine, available in newsstands September 15.

Collis focuses on translating measurements from ARM's six (soon-to-be eight) polarimetric Doppler weather radars into accessible data and value-added products for the cloud and climate modeling community.
Collis focuses on translating measurements from ARM's six (soon-to-be eight) polarimetric Doppler weather radars into accessible data and value-added products for the cloud and climate modeling community.
Collis is part of a large multi-laboratory team of engineers and scientists that work together to optimize the ARM radar network from both an operational and science perspective. His expertise is in the remote sensing of precipitating cloud systems. As "translator" for the ARM precipitation radars, he works with both instrument mentors and data users to provide the best possible measurements for improving the representation of cloud systems in global climate models.

He began working with ARM radar data in 2008 while at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. He moved to the United States in 2010 to join Argonne and the ARM radar team as they began installing an influx of new dual-polarization radars at all the ARM research sites.

Fertile Ground for Radar Research

In 1996, the ARM Facility installed the world's first continuously operating millimeter wavelength cloud radar at its site in Oklahoma. Since then, it has deployed more than two dozen vertical-pointing and scanning radars at its fixed sites in Oklahoma and Alaska in the United States; Darwin, Australia; and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

Other radars travel the globe with the ARM Mobile Facilities for yearlong deployments at locations determined by science proposals. With radars soon joining a new ARM fixed site in the Azores and a third mobile facility beginning operations in the Arctic, the ARM radar network will total 32.

These highly sensitive radars operate at several different frequencies to obtain measurements that determine cloud boundaries and turbulence, as well as details about cloud properties, such as discriminating liquid from ice and determining ice crystal sizes and shapes. Because of this level of detail, the radars generate vast amounts of complex data. Extensive computational resources and sophisticated algorithms are necessary to provide these data in a useful format for the radar, cloud, and climate modeling communities.

"Nobody else is working with radar data at this scale or complexity," said Collis. "Sure, other organizations have weather and research radars. But not so many different kinds. And not at so many different locations. This is truly groundbreaking stuff. And it is not easy."

Collis and many of his ARM radar colleagues are attending the American Meteorological Society's 36th Conference on Radar Meteorology this week in Boulder, Colorado. They are presenting their latest findings and advances in ARM radars and data for both weather and climate research, including:

  • observational targets for scanning weather radars: finding common ground between what is achievable from models and retrievable from remote sensors (Scott Collis, Argonne National Laboratory)
  • a technique using radar velocity profiles to produce estimates of entrainment in shallow cumulus clouds (Mike Jensen, Brookhaven National Laboratory)
  • a novel radar calibration technique using a trihedral corner reflector for end-to-end—as opposed to serial—system calibration (Nitin Bharadwaj, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)
  • the Python-ARM Radar Toolkit (Py-ART), an open source package for working with complex weather radar data (Jonathan Helmus, Argonne National Laboratory)

"The most exciting part of my job is working as part of a user facility!" emphasized Collis. "In ARM, our job is to make science possible for the research community. Working as part of a large and inclusive facility is a great way to get big science done and I have no shortages of opportunities to collaborate across the globe!" he added.

For more about Collis and the Popular Science Brilliant 10 selection, read this profile and their press release.