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Atmospheric research project over Southern skies

Atmospheric research project over Southern skies

Christchurch, New Zealand, 18 June 2014 - Throughout June and July, Christchurch is home to one of the largest science experiments to take place in New Zealand. A US-funded atmospheric science research project is studying the dynamics of gravity waves, and is launching their flying laboratories into our Southern skies.

The DEEPWAVE project is operating out of Christchurch Airport during June and July, studying the dynamics of gravity waves to better understand how they evolve and how they can be better predicted. The information gathered will ultimately lead to more accurate weather forecasts.

The US-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is operating the project in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center DLR. Two specially equipped research aircrafts, a Gulfstream V jet from the US and a Falcon 20 jet from Germany, are acting as “flying laboratories”, making up to 20 flights each over the eight-week duration of the experiment. They are based at Christchurch Airport.

New Zealand air navigation service provider Airways New Zealand has authorised the research project to operate in NZ airspace, after months of planning, risk analysis and safety assessments.

Other organisations involved in the project include NIWA, MetService, UK Met Office, NRL, and the Australian Antarctic Division.

The Southern Hemisphere is an excellent laboratory for the project due to its reliable and consistent westerly wind circulation patterns, particularly over the Southern Alps, DEEPWAVE Operations Director Jim Moore says.

“The strong winds flowing over this barrier invigorate the growth of strong and deep gravity waves. These waves can propagate high into the atmosphere, possibly as high as 100km above New Zealand, and contribute to changes to regional and global wind circulations even back to the the surface that may impact regional and hemispheric weather phenomena. The project hopes to provide the measurements necessary to help confirm numerical model predictions and potential impacts to global climate,” Mr Moore says.

The relatively uncongested airspace across the South Island was also an important factor for NCAR in their search for a suitable location. The research aircraft are operating at night, and are being monitored through Airways radar centre in Christchurch to ensure appropriate separation standards are in place with other aircraft.

DEEPWAVE involves scientists, including those from NIWA, working from six sites across the South Island and in Wellington. The project has been several years in the planning and is being funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Naval Research and Naval Research Laboratory.

Monitoring systems in place for the project include an Integrated Sounding System measuring near-surface winds, moisture and temperature gradients; launched weather balloons measuring temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and wind direction; and radars and lidars measuring near surface winds.

Measurements are integrated with aircraft and satellite data to provide a complete vertical profile of the atmosphere from the ground up to about 100km.

A public open day, outreach programme and media opportunities are included in the programme.

DEEPWAVE runs from 29 May to 27 July.

-- Ends --

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