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Upcycled science

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The meteorological tower owned and operated by the Alaska Climate Research Center monitors climate and weather in the Fairbanks area. The tower was acquired last fall and, this spring, will be able to monitor air quality thanks to a new Purple Air sensor installation. Photo by Telayna Wong.
Fritz Freudenberger

If you browse websites like Pinterest, you might be impressed with how creative crafters turn unwanted items into functional pieces. You may be surprised to learn that scientists are in on it too.

Last fall, the Alaska Climate Research Center at the UAF Geophysical Institute acquired a meteorological tower to monitor climate and weather in the Fairbanks area. This spring, it will be able to monitor air quality.

The tower has temperature and wind sensors at several elevations, a solar radiation sensor and other meteorological monitoring equipment. These instruments will help researchers understand Fairbanks’ weather more accurately.

“The most important thing is the ability to have continuous measurement of winter inversions,” State Climatologist and ACRC Director Martin Stuefer said.

Inversions have a daily cycle, and being able to collect regular temperature information from different elevations is valuable.

“We did not have that before,” Stuefer said. “We had certain sensors at certain altitudes but to have vertical profiles, even just at three heights at the same location, has not existed in Fairbanks before.”

This spring, researchers also plan to install sensors to measure PM2.5, tiny particles in the air, to help understand the effects of inversions in wintertime.

The instruments, Purple Air sensors, are low-cost tools that have already been implemented in Fairbanks to help monitor air as part of research on air quality with GI assistant professor Jingqiu Mao.

“This facility is ideal for this,” Stuefer said.

The tower was erected in 2012 as a temporary structure to gather environmental impact data on emissions from the new UAF Combined Heat and Power Plant. It is located behind Old University Park School, off University Avenue in Fairbanks.

Since the power plant project is almost complete, the tower was scheduled to be taken down in 2019. However, this would come at significant additional cost.

Stuefer stepped in to save the tower and some money too. Stuefer plans to continue using the equipment to monitor weather in Fairbanks but also plans to continue to add improvements to help the community.
For more information on air quality, particulate matter and Purple Air in Fairbanks, check out atmospheric scientist Bill Simpson’s Science for Alaska Lecture Series talk on the subject.