Wellsville Mountain Wave Research Starts Off with a Bang

March 15, 2004

LOGAN – Loud fireworks explosions will be heard during the week of March 15-19 as Cache Valley and the surrounding area become involved in Wellsville Wave project a major atmospheric experiment utilizing an unprecedented team of volunteer atmospheric scientists, engineers, glider pilots, ham radio operators and some future scientists and their teachers.

“The students are a vital part of the project,” said Gil Moore, project director, adjunct professor at Utah State University. “One of our major reasons for doing this is to provide some excitement for the kids in the valley as an adjunct to their class room learning.”

Students from six middle schools will become amateur scientists as they use their home computers and borrowed Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to record data from two sets of fireworks blasts in the Wellsville Wave experiment. The goal of the project is to learn whether atmospheric standing waves that form over the Wellsville Mountains in wintertime can travel upward to become atmospheric gravity waves that circle the earth 60 miles above the surface.

According to Moore the experiment will study standing waves that form when strong winds come out of the west and hit the base of the mountains. As the wind travels over the tops of the mountains, the air gets colder and the moisture in the air condenses, forming lenticularis clouds.

“These are lens-shaped clouds that look like ocean waves,” said Moore. “They seem to be standing still, when in fact the wind is rushing through them and down the east face of the mountains into the valley air mass.”

Scientists hope to learn whether these waves can resonate with the valley air mass and travel upward to produce atmospheric gravity waves in the mesosphere and lower ionosphere that can be observed only with special infrared cameras and radars. As part of a global weather study, scientists want to discover what conditions cause the atmospheric gravity waves to form.

An important part of the Wellsville Wave experiment includes of creating a pulse in the waves using a “six-inch salute” launched by Fireworks West at 6p.m. on Monday March 15. If conditions are right on Wednesday March 17, the experiment will be repeated with a larger charge.

“It is like putting a blob of dye marker into the wave, so when we see it we can say, ‘Hey that’s our wave,’” said Moore.

After the fireworks are ignited the data collection phase of the experiment begins. A teacher from one of the valley middle schools will fly in a Blanik L-13 glider with the Cache Valley Soaring Association and to the time and location he or she hears the blast. The middle school students and anyone in the general public with access to a GPS will likewise record the time and the longitude, latitude and altitude of when and where they hear the shock wave. These amateur scientists across the valley will then post their data on a Web site at Utah State.

“The students and the public will help us define the shape of the sound wave,” said Moore. “They are going to tell us when the leading edge of the shockwave gets to their houses. We will be able to create a 3-D picture of this wave as it expands outward and upward.”

A volunteer team of professional scientists will also collect data during the evening. Campbell Scientific meteorological stations located across the valley will record wind velocity, pressure and temperature. The United States Weather Service will launch radiosonde balloons to monitor wind energy flowing into Cache Valley during the experiment. Members of the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club will also fan across the valley and measure shock wave arrival times.

When the sky becomes sufficiently dark, at about 7 p.m., lidars on the roof of the Science and Engineering Research Building at Utah State and on the roof of the Space Dynamics Laboratory in North Logan will probe the sky above Cache Valley with their green laser beams.

Simultaneously, an imaging Doppler interferometer and an infrared all-sky camera at the Utah State Bear Lake Observatory will be operating to record atmospheric gravity waves. The observatory scientists will be looking for marker pulses created by the firework detonations.

“We have a lot of interest in the outcome,” said John Raitt, Ph.D., head of the department of physics at Utah State. “I have been working in upper atmosphere physics for many years; no one has ever proved whether occurrences in the lower atmosphere can propagate into the upper atmosphere.”

Anyone with access to a GPS and a computer connected to the Internet is welcome to join the in the Wellsville Wave project. To make sure the data are synchronized, the project director has asked everyone to go to their computers and access a digital clock in the Mountain Time Zone at . At exactly 6:00:00 p.m. (18:00:00 Military Time), a mortar charge will produce a loud bang when it launches the six-inch salute upward. A few seconds later, a louder bang will occur when the bursting charge goes off at an altitude of 400 feet. Participants will need to record the exact time that they hear each of the two bangs and use the GPS to record their latitude and longitude. Their data can be entered online at Persons without a GPS can substitute their street addresses for their latitude and longitude.

A similar experiment will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday evening, weather permitting. If the weather is bad on Wednesday evening, the second experiment will be postponed until Thursday evening, or even Friday, if necessary.

Teammates include Fireworks West, Utah State University’s Physics Department and its Center for Atmospheric and Space Sciences, Utah State University Research Foundation’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium, the Cache Valley Soaring Association, the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club, Campbell Scientific, Inc., the U.S. Weather Service, Spring Creek Middle School, Cedar Ridge Middle School, Mt. Logan Middle School, Willow Valley Middle School, White Pine Middle School and Preston Junior High.