Arran Meteorology Fieldtrip 2016

Hey, my name is Malcolm, I am a 3rd year Geophysics and Meteorology student at Edinburgh. Myself and the rest of the Geophysics and Meteorology crew have recently returned from the Arran fieldtrip, or more formally the Atmospheric Science Field Skills course. First of all, I would just like to say a quick thank you to all of the lecturers who were involved with organising the course, I really enjoyed my week on Arran.

Lochranza Castle

The fieldtrip predominantly takes place in Lochranza, which is located in the North-West corner of the Isle of Arran. Three different universities collaborate to run the field course; Leeds, Reading and Edinburgh. As there were only 5 of us from Edinburgh, we were the smallest cohort. This however, was of little significance as we quickly intermingled with students from the other universities.

We travelled to Arran on a somewhat stormy Friday afternoon from Ardrossan. That evening we were arranged into our groups for the upcoming week. I ended up being grouped with 3 others from Leeds and 1 from Edinburgh, the infamous Group 6! On the first evening, we participated in a number of group team building exercises. Such as building an oversized paper airplane. Unfortunately, our creation could be described as miserable at best! It was unanimously agreed however, that our group came up with the best team name – The Goat Fell or was it Pushed? So at least we salvaged some pride there.

Lochranza bay

On Saturday we started to get down to the Meteorology business. Our day began at 07:30 with a staff weather forecast for the next 24 hours, followed by breakfast. We then had a morning of lectures briefly detailing the experiments we would perform over the coming days. After lunch, we split up into our groups and started planning for the Goat Fell hill climb. Each team member was assigned an atmospheric variable (pressure, wind speed, etc.) to measure en route up Goat Fell.

Post dinner it was time for our first forecasting session. These sessions were probably the most stressful part of the week. Each group had 1.5 hours to create a numerical, textual and presentation forecast for the weather over the coming 24 hours. The numerical forecast was then scored based upon its accuracy to a number of meteorological variables, with negative points awarded for a rubbish prediction!! Each group’s score is then ranked against each other, with a prize for the winning group at the end of the week. The forecasting sessions aren’t wrapped up in the evening until around 21:00, after which a sneaky trip to the pub was the norm. This combined with the 07:30 starts each day meant burning the candle at both ends became customary for the week.

Looking South over the Firth of Clyde from Goat Fell

We had not been fortunate with the weather in our first days on Arran. Now due to another Atlantic low pressure system travelling towards Scotland, the conditions were not looking great for the planned Sunday ascent of Goat Fell. However, we hoped to be finished walking by the time the worst of the weather set in. Thankfully, it transpired that we enjoyed windy but pleasant conditions on our hike up the mountain. We only made it up to 620m due to the strengthening winds, but this was still sufficient to enjoy some awesome views across the Firth of Clyde.

Group 6 – “Teamwork makes the dream work”

By measuring the atmospheric conditions on the way up the mountain. We hoped to create a profile of the boundary layer and analyse how the flow of winds are effected by topography. (Windy became very windy with increasing height!) We had time for a quick pint (cheers Neally!) before heading back to the field centre for another forecast session. That evening we discovered that we had scored a grand total of -1 points for our first numerical forecast, putting us in dead last place. Not an ideal start for group 6!

Group 6 – Bantz

Monday and Tuesday was when we conducted most of the experimental work. We began with the surface energy exchange and surface layer dynamics experiment. The local weather station had a number of instruments installed at different heights, which we then used to understand the energy exchange of the atmosphere with the surface. That lunchtime we had the opportunity to launch a radiosonde. The afternoon was then spent analysing the resulting tephigram and performing trajectory analysis. This was really interesting; we ran a NOAA computer model online to discover where the air masses in our tephigram had originated. The resulting horizontal and vertical trajectories were then interpreted to explain the features manifested in our radiosonde tephigram.

Radiosonde launch

The pilot balloon exercise was performed in very calm and partly sunny conditions on Tuesday morning. This experiment is tricky at the best of times, but was made more problematic by the balloon’s determination to track into the sun. Fortunately, some cloud rolled in and we were able to acquire some decent data for analysis. The balloon’s path was then translated onto a horizontal map. From this information, we were looking to decipher the key factors influencing the balloon’s track; such as topographic and sea breeze effects. Next up, was the albedo experiment. Different planetary surfaces were simulated using the available raw materials after some foraging around the field centre! The task was to develop a reasonable estimate of the Earth’s planetary albedo. Using the measured incoming and reflected short and long wave radiation data from our selected representative surfaces.

Tracking the pilot balloons using a theodolite

Data analysis and frantic scribbling into our notebooks was the agenda on both Wednesday and Thursday. The scribbling became more illegible as the 9pm Thursday submission deadline loomed. After which, it was most definitely, beer o’clock. The final results of the numerical forecasts were also revealed on Thursday evening. As it turned out……group 6 had made a strong comeback to edge into 2nd place! Get in.

Looking back towards Arran from the ferry

Come Friday morning, it was time to say goodbye to Arran and our new found friends. As I travelled on the ferry back to the mainland, I found myself feeling………mainly hungover and exhausted, but also reminiscing about the good times we had enjoyed during the week.

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