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South Valley Journal

North Star Academy hosts temporary weather station

Mar 25, 2019 10:49AM ● By Jet Burnham

Students learn about the short and exciting life of a weather balloon. (Jet Burnham\City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Students had a front-row seat to science in action when local weather scientists chose to place a weather monitoring station on the east lawn of North Star Academy (NSA).

“Students had observed the station and were curious about what data was collected and how it would be used,” said Monette McKinnell, a science teacher at NSA.

Scientists from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah used the station to collect data to help them understand the transport of pollutants from Utah County, carried on the winds through the Jordan Narrows (along Jordan River), into the Salt Lake Valley.

North Star Academy, located in Bluffdale at 2920 West 14000 South, is ideally located to gather data for the study.

“This is in a good location to get the winds to understand that transport,” said Erik Crosman, a research assistant professor with the Jordan Narrows Gap Ammonia Transport Study. “We want to see how far north did those flows extend, so this is a good spot.”

The weather station collected air samples once per minute and relayed the data to the research team for seven weeks.

McKinnell’s ninth-graders are currently studying how atmospheric conditions relate to weather patterns and how weather predictions are made based on data collection. When Crosman came to retrieve his equipment on March 4, she invited him to talk with her students about the weather station and the data it had obtained during the seven weeks it was installed on the school grounds.

McKinnell said it was a great opportunity for her students to interact directly with a scientist who measures data such as temperature, wind speed and humidity because it provided authenticity to what they had been studying in class. Seeing the relevance of curriculum concepts engaged the students more than a textbook could, she said. Students saw the real-life application of weather models and satellite data and how it is a viable career path.

Crosman allowed students to experiment with handheld data collection tools to measure temperature, wind speed and humidity levels in the air. It became a competition among students to see who could blow into the sensors and record the highest wind speed.

Crosman also explained the role of weather balloons in weather and air quality research. Balloons rise in the atmosphere, collecting data until they expand so much that they pop and plummet back to the earth. Crosman said while scientists release hundreds of weather balloons each day, only 20 percent are ever found. As a young child, Crosman found a weather balloon that had drifted back to the ground, but he hasn’t seen another one since. 

Crosman’s stories resonated with students.

“Almost everyone was shocked to learn not only how many weather balloons are released each day but the quantity of data they collect,” said McKinnell. “The mental image of a car-sized balloon that pops was fun and will help make the entire presentation more memorable.”

Crosman also spoke with a group of students, grades 5–9, who were interested in learning more about the job of a weather researcher.

“The students at North Star were some of the most engaged, interested students I have ever talked to about weather,” said Crosman, who plans to return to launch a weather balloon with students this April.

Crosman was impressed that, despite being placed so close to a school, the equipment remained undisturbed.

The data collected about the chemistry of pollution particulates, specifically PM 2.5, will contribute to finding solutions to air quality problems such as inversion. The study was a collaboration between several scientists and was funded by the Utah Division of Air Quality.

For more specific information on the project, titled Jordan Narrows Gap Ammonia Transport Study - Meteorological Support and Observations, enter Station ID:UFD13 at https://mesowest.utah.edu/.