And we are done. A seven day tour as mission scientist for ARM TRACER done! Seven days and three up days, super stoked with that, especially this last day which was just a bonus. Forecast turned distinctly more positive for the science we want to do yesterday (understanding the impact of those little particles on big clouds) so we called an up day for my last day in Houston.
So now I sit here biting my fingernails waiting for storms! I’m sitting in the trailer at the ARM site hoping to get video of one last sounding launch. Plus some time lapse of I HOPE developing storms. It has been an amazing trip. I have learned a lot about Houston, the meteorology, ARM and AMF operations and the folks in Houston. Being immersed is important. Back in Chicago I would have so many distractions. Here I watch the atmosphere develop.
Leading up to the forecast call I am watching the data, watching the sky and visiting the sites. I listen to the forecast call, take in all information and make a call on operations. I then watch how it pans out. As talked about in previous posts, forecasting creates an impression on all those involved and aids in future analysis.
With today’s forecast being so uncertain a lot hinged on the morning (7am, 12 noon in Universal Coordinated Time or UTC aka Zulu or “Z” yeah.. a lot of odd stuff) sounding and how dry the air just above the surface is. So, because it seemed “right” I took Mark up on his offer to come out and launch the 12Z sonde.
What a treat. There was a fine layer of fog over the site and the light was MAGIC.
So, scratch “get up at 5am on Sunday to drive to a world class facility to launch a balloon to help in your forecast” off the bucket list. A high note indeed. We looked at the sounding and kept the “up” forecast in place. It’s 23:30Z right now (yeah a long day). Still feeling good about the call. Even if it is a miss it is an interesting miss and the weather turns messy tomorrow (yay! A travel day with tropical-like storms!). I am really looking forward to getting back to my family. 2.5 years or lockdown and heck yeah I miss them when I go away (took all of about 24 hours). Proud of the work I have done here and so very humble to be part of something so amazing.
Atmospheric Radiation Measurement. A facility 30 years strong. And the focus is on measurements. We take measurements. ARM collects measurements with a mission to improve the representation of clouds, aerosols (those tiny particles) and anything that impacts how sunlight travels to the earth and how the infrared radiation emitted from the earth travels our into space in any kind of earth simulation. ARM does not do the improving of simulations.
We target our data so users can do that themselves and use the funding from various agencies (including our sister program, the Atmospheric Systems Research program). ARM looks to scientists like me (yes I have a dual role here, I am supported by the ARM program to value add ARM radar measurements AND I am a scientist who proposes to ARM to deploy instruments) to suggest through a proposal mechanism where we should go to make the most impactful measurements.
ARM measurements are comprehensive. A simple breakdown could be instruments that measure the properties and chemistry of tiny particles, instruments that measure clouds, instruments that measure both and those that measure the air (the meteorology) in which they reside.
I could go over each instrument and its purpose but the would be a lecture, heck a whole course, not a blog post. Some of my favourites are our cloud radars (of course) which shoot radio waves (super high frequency. Your wifi is ~3GHz our Ka Band radar is 35GHz! ) the micropulse LIDAR which instead of shooting radio waves shoots laser beams and, one of my all time favorites due to its simplicity, the Total Sky Imager (TSI).
The TSI cam from the idea of “hey I can see the whole sky in this shiny salad bowl”. It is my got when I am trying to work out “what happened?”. And, of course, as you have all garnered from previous posts, one thing ARM does very well is launch weather balloons.
So after taking all these photos in the morning (sweaty business even at 8am) I relocated back to the hotel for the weather briefing and ops call. The forecast was improving but is a real head scratcher for tomorrow. So we are calling an up day for tomorrow. The key will be moisture near the surface. If there is just a slight bit more than forecast we will get some nice storms. If not enough, no storms until a major chance comes through tomorrow night. Fingers crossed all!
The best day for Prof Gonzalez’s visit was also the day we have major crane operations building the tower and lifting the radome for the CSU C-Band radar. So it was full safety and full safety gear. While the site staff are the experts I could offer a little science talk for the visitor. I love showing folks ARM sites as it always ignites my passion for the facility and the amazing depth of observations we take. No other agency comprehensively measures the atmosphere like ARM. From water coming out of the ground through evaporation, to those tiny particles and the chemicals that make them up to how water and ice clouds are layered in the sky.
And our data is free and open. That’s right, all these people laboring to take measurements and they don’t get to keep it to themselves. Thanks to the taxpayer we give it all away for scientists to do with as they will (we hope and make sure we take the right measurements to improve earth system simulations).
Jorge and postdoc Kalimur enjoyed their visit, albeit it a bit hot under those hard hats and departed to the University of Houston campus to launch their own weather balloons. I relocated to a lunch spot between the site and my hotel to listen in to the forecast call and lead the operations call. There was a little excitement as soundings showed the atmosphere to be moister and a little more unstable than expected.
But not enough for those big clouds that have us so excited to study the impacts of little particles. So we decided to keep those valuable soundings (and more valuable helium) in reserve for a day with more scientifically interesting clouds. Sunday onwards is seeing a dramatic shift in weather patterns. Talk turns now to safety in case we get so much rain next week we get some flash flooding. Fingers crossed for amazing weather for science that is also non-damaging to Houston. Always the creed of the weather geek. Now, it’s friday night. I am missing my family terribly but it is time to unwind a bit. Kemah has a distinctly Louisiana feel (more Cajan, less Cowboy) so relaxing while writing this post with a cocktail or two in a funky place called the Voodoo hut. Here’s to the weekend and some weekend science all!
Today is a down day. A day to catch up on some tasks back in Chicago, a day to do some planning and a day long planned to pay a visit to our friends at the National Weather Service. The winds blowing moisture in from the Gulf of Mexico slackened overnight which meant for the first time in a few days now early morning rain clouds.
In fact it dawned clear! I headed down to the nearest coastline on Galveston Bay and just missed some Dolphins, but I could see a lot of scared fish still jumping out of the surface. Really happy with my choice of Kemah as a place to stay as it is so walkable.
As you may have seen from my posts we have an active forecasting activity during what is called the “Intensive Operational Period” or IOP of TRACER. We forecast for a variety of reasons; It helps us target out limited (1 in 4 days during the IOP from June 1st to September 30th) days we can call for enhanced operations for soundings (weather stations attached to balloons) so it is essential to forecast the most scientifically interesting days to do so! Right now pickings are a bit slim. Which is why nailing the right days to go “up” is essential. Second, it creates a record of “what happened”. By becoming “operationally aware” and recording our forecast briefings we create a impression of the sequence of events which will aide in future analysis.
Finally; it is FUN! While this sounds flippant, fun matters. Having fun is important. Being fun brings in young scientists and engages the old hands in mentoring them. I was young once. Heck even Mike Jensen was young once and now he lead a massive field project. I am SURE a future leader is one of our forecasters or assistants on this project today.
To this end I am so grateful to the fine folks at the National Weather Service at the Houston Galveston office in League City, Texas. Having the team at the NWS office who really know their stuff is so vital. The calls we have each day are forecast discussions. The forecast team (forecast coordinator, three bench forecasters for verification, clouds and convection and air quality) and 1-2 assistants (most important job) come into the call presenting the current picture of the weather. Everyone on the call then discusses this and amends the thoughts of the team.
Having the NWS as the first “sounding board” is amazing as they add the local knowledge to a diverse ground of minds focused on Houston. It was a real pleasure to visit the office today. So happy to have these NOAA professionals involved in enhancing a DOE project aimed at improving our knowledge of those tiny particles and their impacts on big clouds to improve weather predictions. From tornadoes to climate!
Second up day of my time in Houston as a mission scientist. Early storms were not as strong but this is a good thing as it really allowed the energy and moisture the big clouds we are studying to grow. After two days traveling all around Houston today was a day to stay closer to my home base in Kemah. An interesting little tourist area with a boardwalk and funpark I chose Kemah because it is very walkable. In an area like Kemah I can get out and roam and observe the clouds we are so interested in.
This morning I walked out to the boardwalk as some early storms were forming and moving into the area. The bay affords a great view back. The forecast from Bobby and team yesterday was spot on and storms formed on a later forming Gulf breeze (a type of wind generated by the differences in temperature between the waters in the Gulf and the land). Too successful in fact as one of the storm systems hit Liz’s drone site! But exciting to see how those big clouds impact profiles of temperatures.
Very lucky to have a nice coffee shop in Kemah. After a hot walk I eschewed my usual choice of a latte and got an iced coffee. After seeing to some tasks back in Chicago (being a department head means it is hard to leave my duties back in the Midwest..) I hopped on the forecast and operations call for ARM TRACER. We are very lucky to have a range of very talented forecasters from professors to VERY capable students and even NWS staff. After two very lucky days things are drying out in the TRACER region (~100km around La Porte) although some storms are possible to our north. Good news is storms are firing away today so we did not have to abort enhanced operations at the ARM site and we have collected another very nice case study to understand the impact of tiny particles on big clouds. However, as mission scientist I called a “down” day tomorrow.
Of course normal ARM operations still means unprecedented frequency and fidelity of observations Right when the forecast call ended the whole Kemah area experienced a power outage. A quick pack and I went mobile again finding a local pub with blazing fast internet. There I took another ARM call, this one on the use of AI on camera systems. It was actually (lucky!) I went mobile as on the way back from League City I was treated to a show of a developing big cloud that go so big it hit the top of the atmosphere and formed what we call an anvil for that classical thunderstorm shape. I was so happy that we were launching soundings and our friends from TAMU, OU, TTU, Stonybrook and other collaborators were out there with mobile radars and other platforms measuring that storm right over Houston! Lucky indeed.
Yesterday on the forecast and operations call as the mission scientist I called an “up day”. A day where the ARM Facility will place its observatory in a state of increased vigilance. More soundings (weather stations on balloons to understand how temperature, water and winds vary with height in our atmosphere) and our radar our in Pearland, Texas will execute a special algorithm to follow storm systems. This was based on a forecast produced by the TRACER forecast team who are doing an outstanding job!
We started the day out with Gijs, who was here with Justin, Jonathan and Radiance. They were flying a very impressive UAV fixed wing platform over pasture here in Texas. The launch system was amazing and while completely safe was a little intimidating. Managed risk! this is what the best people do. A bungee cord rapidly accelerates the UAV to get lift so the rotor can take over thrust once clear of the launch platform (a table… your tax dollars being spent very wisely!). The platform then measures the winds (heat and water) that goes into those big clouds we are studying. The heat and water are vital to understand because we want to see clouds that have the same heat and water but different mixtures of tiny particles. Only then can we understand how those tiny particles change those big clouds.
Our next stop was to visit Liz, Michelle and Francesca flying a completely different UAV, a quadcopter. This amazing platform, more akin to the platforms starting to dominate the consumer market, does a profile of the same heat and water for those big clouds from the ground to 2,000 feet every 15 minutes! To put that in perspective I am crazy excited about ARM launching those balloons every hour. Both platforms are posterchilder for American ingenuity, home built over a decade with the kinks worked out by trial and error. I feel so honored to be an intruder on work that has taken blood sweat and tears over many years to make work.
Our final stop was back at the ARM Mobile Facility. Since we had requested enhanced soundings we wanted to check in. Of course the team had it all in hand and we even got to see the Colorado State University radar being installed. Even better, as we arrived the amazing staff at the AMF were launching one of our special sondes! Marcus’ son Olie was with us and Gabby offered Olie the chance to launch the Sonde! So, TRACER scientists, your 20:30 UTC sonde and the science from it is courtesy of Oli Van Lier-Walqui!
Hitting the ground running, not literally thank goodness as it was hot and humid today in La Porte Texas. Landing last night I was greeted by very nice decaying storms to the east which were very photogenic from where I am staying in Kemah, a touristy suburb on Galveston / Trinity bay.
Surrounded by chemical plans, shipping facilities and oil refineries (sources of those little particles that so impact the big clouds of our climate) ARM deploys its usual and very successful playbook. Get good people, build local connections, bring the community along.
For me, today was about: Lead as a mission scientist, understand the deployment and the clouds we are studying and capture the people and unique deployment in pictures and videos. The folks at the AMF (ARM Mobile Facility) greeted me with amazing warmth. Seeing I enjoyed being outside in the heat, safer during this time of COVID, they graciously set up a shelter for me. This also allowed me to use the amazing instruments, including the Scanning Cloud ARM Radar (SACR) as a background for the unavoidable (though I tried) for zoom calls during the day. Plus, of course, the all important forecast and operations call for TRACER.
And this pampered office working scientist was even helpful! Helping load a gas analyzer used to study the chemistry of those tiny particles) back into an instrument rack. So, take homes and lessons learned from today? This area of Houston has a heat born of the Gulf of Mexico. Any breeze is most most welcome when temperatures are in the high 90’s and dewpoints (a measure of moisture in the air, when dewpoint equals temperature humidity is at 100%) in the mid 70’s, the AMF is something globally unique, world class that the US Department of Energy can deploy a state of the art earth science observatory anywhere and then tear it down and deploy it anywhere else. No one else does this and I am proud to be a part of it.
So, today, Thanks to Bobby’s leadership, we decided tomorrow looks as good as it is going to get for the whole week for clouds that get big enough to rain which are our science target (the big clouds that are so affected by those little particles). Tomorrow the facility will enter special operations. The weather radar (like you see on your National Weather Service webpage, or by your favourite meteorologist like Tom Skilling in Chicago) will use special software to track storms and the ARM technicians like David, Matt and Mark will launch soundings (balloons with instruments) at an unprecedented rate. All in the hope of catching those tiny particles making those big clouds bigger (or smaller? Let’s see!).
Greetings from O’Hare international Airport. Just dropped my bag off and I am now relaxing in the United Club (yep, I spring, personally, for access as I am an anxious traveler). Flying down to Houston, Texas for a 7 day tour as Mission Scientist for ARM’s TRACER field campaign. It is super fitting I fly to Houston on June 19th as the Juneteenth holiday marks the day that the emancipation proclamation finally made it to Galveston Texas (just outside of Houston).
The ARM Facility of the United States Department of Energy is in Houston to study clouds. Specifically clouds that grow big enough to make rain and even become thunderstorms. The fundamental science we are seeking to address is “Are clouds that form when there are more tiny (less than 10 millionth’s of a meter in diameter) particles different to clouds that form when there are less of these particles?” We call these particles Aerosols. They are so small that the force of gravity is small compared to winds and other forces so the essentially float in the air.
We are going to Houston specifically because, according to a paper by Ann Fridlind (and myself and colleagues) Houston is usually a cloud factory this time of year. And some clouds hit air with more of these aerosols and some hit air with less. So we can use our state of the art instruments to see if the drops, snowflakes and winds in these clouds change. This is super important as we have lines of computer code in our weather and climate models that contains our current knowledge of the physics of how clouds interact with these aerosols. And we know we need to know more so we can better predict the weather and climate. And, for the Department of Energy, predicting what the impact of our energy choices have on climate is part of the mission. In addition DOE and partners use weather models to predict wind, solar and hydroelectric power. And, yes those tiny little particles have an outsized impact!
Five (or so) years ago I found out a group was interested in studying thunderstorms and aerosols in Houston. I had been involved in a similar study in Queensland, Australia, so we (myself and my colleague, Robert Jackson) started collaborating and became Co-Investigators on TRACER. Now I am a mission scientist and one of the leads of the forecasting effort! Now my flight is about of board so I have to wrap up! Excited to get to Houston and see those clouds we are studying!
Good morning readers. I have been quiet for some time. This Blog has been very good to me; it has connected me to the media, it has been a wonderful tool for science outreach and it also has made some wonderful lasting records of my adventures! Well it is time to resurrect this blog! Why? for the first time in 11 years I am going into the field for a field campaign! I am a co-investigator on the deployment of the ARM User Facility’s Mobile Facility (aka AMF) for a deployment called the TRacking Aerosol Convection interactions ExpeRiment or TRACER! This quote from the ARM article featuring Brookhaven’s Mike Jensen says it best: “Ultrafine liquid and solid atmospheric aerosol particles are needed to form cloud droplets. In Houston, aerosols come from a variety of sources, including factories, car exhaust, rural soils, and sea spray.”
We are in TRACER to study these interactions. I have a number of roles in the campaign. With Mike, TTU’s Eric Bruning and NASA’s Alex Kotsakis I lead the forecasting efforts. I am also one of the rotating Mission Scientists who make operational decisions regarding the facility’s operation. Sunday I will be flying to Houston for a seven day tour of duty. In addition to being Mission Scientist for that time I will be fully immersed (operationally aware to use an old Bureau of Meteorology (Australia) forecasting term) in the weather of Houston. I also want to draw attention to the amazing instruments ARM deploys in my new role as ARM’s Workforce Development Coordinator (WDC).
Stay tuned as I head south to get my head in the clouds. More DOE Climate Science and ARM geekering coming soon!
We are hiring! Adam, Nicki and Myself are looking to hire two new folks to fill a variety of roles. And I imagine most people who are looking at the job postings are “So what kind of jobs are these?”. I’ll be blunt, America (the USA) has a terrible hang up about describing what a job is and what it pays. We post a job saying “RD2” with no indication as to the renumeration etc… And yes, Americans are very funny about money. So I can’t post salaries or even discuss them here but I am happy to discuss.
So, what is a career at Argonne like? First, Argonne is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center or FFRDC. For those of you in the atmospheric sciences NCAR is a FFRDC. Unlike NCAR, Argonne’s prime contract is to the US Department of Energy (NCAR’s is to the National Science Foundation). So as an Argonne employee you are an employee of UChicago-Argonne LLC. This has a slew of advantages and disadvantages compared to being a Fed. Biggest advantage is we can hire foreign nationals a disadvantage is we don’t have the same retirement benefits and security that federal service offers. But we do have a very generous benefits package.
Argonne has a dual classification system. You have a classification for your “working role” and “leadership role”. For example as an Atmospheric Scientist and Department Head I am RD4 + LD2. On the 4th rung of the Research and Development track and 2nd rung in terms of leadership. Most employees are effectively LD-Zero. Within the work role there are a variety of different classifications but the two we are hiring are “Professional Technical” or PR and “Research and Development” or RD. Most of the time, and this is one of those times we onboard at RD/PT level 2.
For the RD role RD2 is somewhat equivalent to hiring at the Assistant Professor level. The lab has a requirement that those who are hired at RD2 get promoted to RD3 in five years. There are two reasons I say “Somewhat”: The process is far less onerous than gaining tenure. And there is no such thing as tenure at Argonne. For example my RD3 promotion case was built around Py-ART. I published one very nice first author paper in 5 years, one two author paper I was second author on and a large number of nth author papers.
The other position is at the PT2 level, although we may hire two RD2s if we get a candidate who is suitable. The main difference between PT and RD is the lack of the aforementioned promotion requirement and the PT path, while highly valued by the lab is in support of R&D.
The other question I get asked is “What is the funding situation like? Will I need to find my own funding?”. To a degree this depends on how you are being hired. Say, for example you are what we call a “Strategic hire”. Here you would be given a year or two of funding to find your legs and build your own program. These are not strategic hires we (Adam and Myself) have more work than people to do it. My philosophy is a RD2 should be focus on building their reputation and science in service of the DOE mission (science for the nation!) and around the time we are looking at RD2->3 be actively involved, with guidance from a mentor, in program development. It is very rare for PT classified staff to be involved in proposal writing.
When I started at Argonne I was funded only by the ARM program. Over my 11 years here I have diversified the funding I am supported by (and my team). This both opens opportunities and comes with headaches. A successful scientist or professional at a national lab must be flexible.
Here are some other questions and answers for these positions:
Can folks in other countries apply?: Yes! Suitably qualified candidates are encouraged to apply. Argonne has a great office that supports foreign nationals in getting visas etc. We will have to prove that you can do the job better than applicants from within the USA. When we are looking for the best scientists in the world, often it ends up being a foreigner (like me!). You will also be subject to a background check.
Do I need a PhD?: For the PT role, no. But it does not hurt! For the RD role, also no, but it really helps.
Can I work remotely (ie interstate)?: For the PT role (instrument role) no as it requires working on instruments on the Argonne site. For the RD role, “Maybe”. We want to be competitive with other institutions offering remote work however we know the value of being part of a team in person. Many opportunities come from internal to Argonne over a coffee or beer. If you want to work remotely you will have to a) make regular trips to Argonne and; b) convince us that you have a great network already you are bringing to Argonne such that difficulties networking with Argonne staff will not be an issue.
Can I telework (have some work from home days interspersed with office time)?: Absolutely. In fact we are all mainly remote at the moment.
Why would I want to work at Argonne?: World class computing facilities. You will have amazing access to computation resources. Access to a 36,800 core cluster with a simple application. Great benefits including 401K match, health care etc… Real mission orientated science. A great campus that is in easy distance to Chicago and all it has to offer BUT in the suburbs with a lower cost of living. Argonne is in the middle of a forest preserve with great running, cycling etc… Oh and, once the whole COVID-19 thing is done we have O’Hare which can get you to just about anywhere you would want to go…. And, finally, you get to work with us!