Jul 162003
Authors: Shandra Jordan

The Center for Geosciences/Atmospheric Research could receive as much as $3 million dollars for next fiscal year to continue their research for the Department of Defense, up from $1 million this year.

“The battlefield environment presents specific challenges to the Army, Navy and Air Force during wartime,” said Thomas H. Vonder Haar, the director of Geosciences.

Geosciences is a project funded by the Cooperative Institute for Research and the Atmosphere. CIRA does research into satellite meteorology, said Ken Eis, deputy director of CIRA.

Geoscience will know how much money they have to work with when the Fiscal Year 04 budget comes out this fall. The federal government’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, rather than July 1 for the university.

The $1 million was unusually low for the year, Eis said. The $3 million dollars is more normal.

“Sen. (Wayne) Allard and Congresswoman (Marilyn) Musgrave have worked to support us and there is $3 million in the proposed FY 04 budget,” Eis said.

Geosciences was established in 1986 to take weather research and use that knowledge to help the Department of Defense. They have received over $23 million of funding over the years, according to their Web site.

“We take the weather research we do and apply it specifically to Department of Defense instead of civilian needs,” Eis said. “(CIRA and Geosciences) do similar things but for different customers and sometimes we do the same things for both sides.”

Eis said when those needs overlap, both sides benefit.

“Civilians are interested in clouds because you get rained on at a picnic,” Eis said. “These are not military concerns. The military is concerned about clouds because they get in the way of reconnaissance and ground fighting.”

Geosciences also does a lot of research into soil moisture, Eis said. This benefits both civilians and the military. Determining areas of moisture helps make the next day’s forecast more accurate and enables more accurate predications of thunderstorms for civilians while preparing the military for mud or dust storms.

“It wasn’t the Iraqi army that stopped out troops,” Eis said. “What did stop our troops was a two-day long sandstorm.”

One area of research the military asked Geosciences to look into is low-level winds, Eis said. These are important for military operations and homeland security because if a bioweapon is released, there is currently no way of predicting exactly how it will spread because of this phenomena. The current models were designed in the 1950s-1960s.

Eis explains low-level winds in the context of a camping trip. When you go to bed, it’s calm and still and you can see the stars from the tent. When you wake up at 2 a.m., your tent is flapping and it sounds like a storm is blowing in, but when you go outside and look at the horizon it looks clear and you can’t feel a breeze on the ground.

“What you’ve just experienced is something that concerns people with a toxic dispersal situation,” Eis said.

What has happened, Eis said, is after a hot day, the ground cools so the air above it cools but just 100 feet above ground the air is quite warm. The cold air falls and the warmer air rises, which is a very stable condition, unless decoupling occurs, Eis said.

When decoupling occurs, the air 100 to 200 feet above ground has no relationship to the air above it and the top air begins to move faster, and can get up to about 50 to 60 mph, Eis said.

Eventually a breakdown occurs and the top air falls to the ground, and the cycle begins again.

“What would have happened if the day before a bad guy released a chemical weapon?” Eis said. “You can’t measure that because the chemicals are above you and you aren’t even aware of it until your tent flaps start moving and then you’ve been exposed.”

Geosciences is working to create a model so they can predict where these low-level winds might take a toxic agent, Eis said. Right now, there is no way to forecast that.

“Given enough time we’ll be able to improve those models,” Eis said.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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