Better weather testing up in the air

23:25, Jun 17 2014
TOP: The Dassault Falcon 20E (registration D-CMET) has been extensively modified for use in research by the German Aerospace Centre and will be used in a NIWA experiment over the Southern Alps. Below: The NSF/NCAR High-performance Instrumental Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER) aircraft is a cutting-edge observational platform also being used by NIWA.

A Gulfstream V jet from the US and a Falcon 20 jet from Germany will act as "flying laboratories" for a "one of a kind" experiment which will take place in the Mackenzie.

The experiment, a first for New Zealand, is called DEEPWAVE (Deep Propagating Gravity Waves Experiment) and NIWA scientists are playing a significant role in it.

DEEPWAVE consists of studying the gravity waves by examining the atmosphere over the Southern Alps, including the Mackenzie district.

NIWA scientist Michael Uddstrom said the Southern Alps offered a unique opportunity for this type of atmospheric research because of the reliability of the westerly wind circulation patterns in the area.

"The effects of gravity waves have not been well studied and this experiment will enable us to add vital data to our weather and climate prediction models," Uddstrom said.

Gravity waves form when strong winds strike a large obstacle, such as a mountain range. The effect is similar to ripples on water when a rock is thrown in.


The waves can travel horizontally or vertically as far as the outer reaches of the atmosphere.

Up to 200 people, including NIWA staff, will be responsible for taking a range of measurements that will then be integrated with aircraft and satellite data to provide a complete vertical profile of the atmosphere from the ground, up to about 100km.

The Gulfstream V jet and the Falcon 20 jet will be making up to 20 flights each week over the six week duration of the experiment which starts on June 6 and runs until July 27.

Scientists will be based at Mt John as well as other locations such as Hokitika and Birdlings Flat.

The Gulfstream V research aircraft will be using multiple technologies to take measurements between the surface and 100km altitude. These include dropping dropsondes (expendable measuring devices which can be dropped from aircraft) that measure the atmosphere from the aircraft to the surface and lidars that make measure ments of key atmospheric parameters up to almost 100km.

The Falcon 20 will fly at lower altitudes slightly ahead of the Gulfstream taking measurements from the surface up to about 11km.

The flights will take place at night and may last up to nine hours, in a bid to understand how gravity waves evolve and how they can be better predicted

The information gathered will ultimately lead to better weather forecasts.

The public can see the Gulfstream V at Christchurch Airport on June 21 between 9am and noon.

The Timaru Herald