On October 1, the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) was featured on the influential LiveScience website, which covered CASA’s Puerto Rican testbed. As the LiveScience article noted, “A team of CASA graduate and undergraduate students from several CASA partner institutions designed, assembled, and installed the "off-the-grid," solar-powered, and wireless radar system in a region of western Puerto Rico that the Doppler radar located south of San Juan cannot sense. The testbed covers a crucial 1.5 km-high gap in atmospheric weather-monitoring in that mountainous region, producing accurate rainfall data that can be used to predict flooding and support other applications such as crop hydrology.”
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Here is the LiveScience article in its entirety.
The Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) is an Engineering Research Center (ERC) based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The Center's main thrust is the development of networks of small, versatile radars that can "see" atmospheric phenomena such as tornadoes that occur in the lower regions of the atmosphere, beneath the areas where current state-of-the-art Doppler radars can reliably detect. The aim is to detect severe events sooner and in more detail, a capability already being proven in the field by experimentally deployed networks of the radars.
One of these experimental networks, or testbeds, has been deployed in conjunction with CASA partner the University of Puerto Rico–Mayaguez (UPRM). A team of CASA graduate and undergraduate students from several CASA partner institutions designed, assembled and installed the "off-the-grid" (OTG), solar-powered and wireless radar system in a region of western Puerto Rico that the Doppler radar located south of San Juan cannot sense. The testbed covers a crucial 1.5 km-high gap in atmospheric weather-monitoring in that mountainous region, producing accurate rainfall data that can be used to predict flooding and support other applications such as crop hydrology. The testbed also explores methods for more accurate measurement of wind data than is now possible, and could be used as a back-up to the current radar system if the Puerto Rican electrical grid blacks out in heavy weather.
In addition to its research value, the student-run testbed system offers a unique educational experience. It requires the students to work independently as a group across disciplinary and geographical boundaries and to understand all facets of developing and implementing an experimental system in the field. The testbed has provided the basis for development of a CASA course exploring recent weather radar research.
In July 2010, the Central American and Caribbean Games at Mayaguez provided a real-world test that revealed the power of the testbed. The CASA students were asked to support the games with their OTG radar network. The student network succeeded in imaging two damaging windstorms that impacted the Games, causing significant damage. Data from their radars were transmitted to the National Weather Service office in San Juan, allowing earlier warnings to be issued.
This project has potentially significant implications for the future of meteorology, and also provides value to the engineering students who are gaining real-world, hands-on experience in providing state-of-the-art technical services in an international setting, with very little supervision. The image above depicts the off-the-grid, wireless radar installed on Cerro Cornelia, a mountain summit in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, as part of the CASA ERC's student radar system testbed. (October 2010)