Test period simulates daily operations for remote deployment in Atacama Desert

Science and operations team members observe data transmitted from the weather balloon launched during training for RHUBC-II.
Science and operations team members observe data transmitted from the weather balloon launched during training for RHUBC-II.

At an elevation of more than 5000 meters on the Atacama Desert in Chile, the site for the second phase of the upcoming Radiative Heating in Underexplored Bands Campaign is not only very high, but also remote. To reduce the potential for surprises, the science and operations team completed a comprehensive beta test at the Pagosa Springs Staging Facility in Colorado between April 24 and 28. All scientific personnel and instrument support staff, including a technician from AstroNorte in Chile, participated in the test.

This test period was critical for everyone to:

  • experience and discuss daily operations scenarios for the high-altitude site on Cerro Toco, including schedules, safety, and campaign objectives
  • explore interactions between instruments and modify plans accordingly
  • discuss documentation with respect to daily operations, troubleshooting, and packing specifications for each instrument
  • receive training in weather balloon launching, plus specific individual training for key operations.

“Our decisions with respect to site lay-out and personnel scheduling will have important impacts on the amount and quality of the data we will collect in Chile,” said Eli Mlawer from Atmospheric Environmental Research, Inc., who is one of the co-lead scientists for the study.

He also pointed out that many of the team members had not met before, and because they will be working together very closely during the campaign, the time spent together during the beta test was extremely valuable.

Joining the ARM team for the beta test were scientific colleagues from NASA’s Langley Research Center, the University of Denver, and the Istituto di Fisica Applicata Carrara in Florence, Italy. These scientists will be deploying the following guest instruments: Far-Infrared Spectroscopy of the Troposphere; Absolute Solar Transmittance Interferometer; and the Radiation Explorer in the Far Infrared, respectively. Combined with ARM’s Extended Range Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer (AERI), these highly sophisticated spectrometers will provide detailed measurements throughout the infrared and near-infrared (1-100 microns) portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Radiance measurements in certain spectral regions, including the far-infrared, are typically obscured by water vapor, but the extremely arid conditions of the Atacama Desert “open up” these portions of the spectrum. This will allow the science team to obtain critical radiance measurements that are needed to improve climate models.

Newly developed for remote high-altitude research, the SKIP is a fully self-sufficient operations facility. It includes enclosures for instruments, data systems, and work space, plus an outdoor operations area and on-site power resources.
Newly developed for remote high-altitude research, the SKIP is a fully self-sufficient operations facility. It includes enclosures for instruments, data systems, and work space, plus an outdoor operations area and on-site power resources.

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A critical component of the beta test was the design and construction of the Self Kontained Instrument Platform, or SKIP. Operations staff from Los Alamos National Laboratory relied heavily on their field experience to ensure the SKIP could accommodate a wide range of future deployment scenarios.

“Expertise gained by our personnel in operating the ARM Mobile Facility and remote Tropical Western Pacific sites was key to developing this state-of-the-art facility,” said Larry Jones from Los Alamos National Laboratory and ARM site manager for the Tropical Western Pacific sites.

For RHUBC-II, the SKIP was tailored specifically to enable high-altitude operations without access to a local power or communications grid. The platform includes several enclosures for personnel, instruments, a data system, and a workshop, plus a unique tandem double-generator set with an accompanying fuel tank.

Once the SKIP was set up, visiting technicians and scientists installed their instruments, fuel deliveries were completed and a site safety inspection performed. Once the official test period started, the team simulated real operations by rising before dawn each day. This ensured the spectrometers were online to record data as the sun began to rise.

Because a number of the spectrometers are highly sensitive, they will be rolled in and out of the enclosures each day. Except for the Extended Range AERI, all of the ARM instruments will operate continuously throughout the campaign. In addition, the campaign team will launch 3-4 weather balloons each day to obtain a full profile of atmospheric conditions.

Toward the end of the test, a reporter from the Pagosa Sun interviewed several of the participants. Immediately upon conclusion of the successful beta test, everything was packed up for shipment to Chile. The campaign begins in August and lasts through October 2009.