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Research Instrument Returns From 22,000-Mile Journey
January 16, 2019

A portable research lab developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists and engineers recently returned home to Madison following a 22,000-mile journey to the Philippine Sea and back during the heart of monsoon season.

The High Spectral Resolution Lidar’s green laser is clearly visible during nighttime operations. The HSRL is capable of collecting atmospheric measurements regardless of the time of day. Credit: Igor Razenkov

According to information, the lab, known as SPARCLET, traveled aboard the research vessel Thomas G. Thompson for two months to aid in a study called the Propagation of Intra-Seasonal Tropical Oscillations, or PISTON. It is aimed at better understanding how pollutants and turbulent conditions over the Philippine Sea affect the region and influence global weather.

For example, researchers want to improve regional forecasts by learning more about aerosols, such as smoke and exhaust, and how they interact with clouds to form atmospheric convection.

Aboard the vessel, a crew of international collaborators used a robust set of instruments to capture everything from oceanographic measurements to detailed atmospheric observations.

“Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) scientists and engineers contributed to the ship’s instrument fleet by building a portable research lab called the SPARCLET,” says Bob Holz, SSEC scientist and PISTON collaborator. “Its purpose is to provide a climate-controlled and hardened portable lab that can be easily shipped and deployed anywhere in the world.”

The SPARCLET is a downsized version of a 17-foot towable laboratory used to make land-based atmospheric field observations, called the SSEC Portable Atmospheric Research Center (SPARC). Like the SPARC, SPARCLET can carry two primary instruments: the High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) and the Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer, both of which were also designed and built at SSEC.

However, for PISTON, the SPARCLET was fitted with the HSRL, which takes atmospheric measurements of aerosols. Aerosols are found in high concentrations over the Philippine Sea and can affect weather through convective processes and cloud seeding.

To accommodate the maritime mission, SSEC engineers built the compact structure to house the HSRL using a standard metal shipping container, or “seatainer,” to withstand the long journey, while making it readily deployable from a ship’s deck.

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