Sandia LabNews

DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program mobile facility moves to Niger for year-long stay

DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program mobile facility moves to Niger for year-long stay

After a six-month stint taking cloud and aerosol measurements at Point Reyes National Seashore on the California coast, the ARM Mobile Facility moved to Niamey, Niger, in October for a year’s deployment there.

Going along to help set up the climate monitoring equipment was Sandia engineer Mark Ivey, who spent a week in the West African country.

ARM — for Atmospheric Radiation Measurement — is the largest global change research program supported by DOE. It was created in 1989 as part of the Global Change Research Program to help resolve scientific uncertainties related to global change, focusing on the role of clouds. ARM has three permanent research sites around the globe, plus the mobile facility that recently was deployed to Niger.

“This is the mobile unit’s second deployment,” Mark says. “For the next year, the ARM Mobile Facility [AMF] will be measuring cloud properties, solar and thermal radiation, and meteorological conditions at the surface.”

He adds that a multinational experiment is investigating how mineral dust from the Sahara and biomass burning play a role in the West African monsoon and the climate in general. The belief is that these aerosols, as well as deep tropical convection in the sub-Saharan wet season, have a big impact on climate in that region, and possibly well beyond Africa.

“This experiment will help us better understand how solar and thermal radiation are transferred in the atmosphere when deep convection and aerosols are present,” Mark says.

While the mobile unit will be taking climate measurements on the ground, a European satellite positioned over the Sahara will be taking them from the sky. The combined measurements will provide the first well-sampled, direct estimates of changes of solar and thermal radiation across the atmosphere. The mobile unit will also be used to study the impact of clouds, aerosol, and water vapor on the surface.

Niger is one of the hottest countries in the world, with heat so intense that it often causes rain to evaporate before it hits the ground. Mark calls the Sahara “the biggest dust aerosol generator on the planet.”

Teams from the participating organizations will be spending time at the research site on a rotating basis. An Australian couple will be there for more than a year to take care of the equipment and work with local meteorological observers.

Mark, a member of the first rotation team, arrived in Niamey, Niger’s capital, on Oct. 11, three days after a chartered 747 jumbo jet carrying the equipment landed at the airport. The AMF equipment includes seven containers, each 8 feet tall, 8 feet wide, between 12-20 feet long, and weighing 5,000-10,000 pounds. One extra container with equipment will arrive in January. A separate container for batteries and other types of potentially hazardous materials was shipped from California to Niger, taking 12 weeks to get there by sea.

The mobile unit has its own power generation, communication system, and state-of-the-art climate measurement instrumentation.

Mark worked closely with colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory in planning the Niger deployment. His involvement in the ARM Program dates back to the late 1990s when he led a team at Sandia that designed, built, and integrated ARCS — Atmospheric Radiation and Cloud Stations. The ARCS systems are still used at the Tropical Western Pacific ARM sites, and two ARCS vans were included in the AMF deployment in Niger.