UND graduate students and personnel, alongside a Fargo-based weather research company, will be heading to Florida this month to assist the U.S. Navy in thunderstorm research.

UND has received a contract of just over $1 million to conduct research on behalf of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in an effort to improve the understanding of thunderstorms.

The research combines aircraft measurements and observations with the U.S. Navy’s Mid-Course Doppler Radar to develop better cloud models.

David Delene, professor of atmospheric sciences at UND, says Cape Experiment 2019 is a historic opportunity both in the project’s level of research and the partnerships it creates.

The university will be subcontracting with Fargo-based Weather Modification International in the use of its research aircraft -- a modified jet previously owned by the university.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

“This is a great example of a public-private partnership,” Delene said in a press release. “We both take the strengths of what we can do to conduct a project that’s difficult to do individually. UND provides the scientific understanding, and WMI provides the ability to operate the aircraft safely and effectively while utilizing state-of-the-art aircraft probes.”

This month WMI and UND will spend two weeks conducting between 20 and 30 hours of flying in thunderstorm anvils near Cape Canaveral, Fla. The research plane can reach heights allowing a variety of cutting-edge probes to take measurements at the tops and centers of storms.

The probes will measure essential atmospheric state parameters, which includes temperature, humidity, wind and pressure. Delene says cloud size, concentration, habits and total water content are also important key measurements. These probes can measure the number and size of cloud particles and the cloud liquid and total water content.

Delene says the U.S. Navy has an interest in modeling clouds on a global scale. UND’s research using data collected during the July flights will help the Navy understand the system’s abilities and limitations as they pertain to weather monitoring and forecasting.

The project includes pilots from WMI and UND personnel plus multiple graduate students who will get to fly on the plane, run the data systems and ensure the instruments are performing correctly during the flight.

“They’ll also process the data right after the flights and examine them,” Delene said. “After the field work for the project is over, it’s going to form the basis of multiple thesis projects.”

Neil Brackin, president of WMI, said the project is an example of “of how we can leverage the strengths of UND and the Atmospheric Sciences department in deploying industry leading equipment on domestic and international projects.” In addition to Cape Experiment 2019, WMI involves UND students and faculty in a variety of projects that provide training and opportunities in the field of atmospheric science.

“When we have an open collaboration and leverage our combined strengths, WMI and UND offer unparalleled history and capability in this industry,” Brackin said in a statement. “For us, it’s a great channel for developing operational programs within the government, military and commercial sectors, helping us build our brand as the leading commercial operator within the field of atmospheric sciences.”

The public-private partnership is “the start of a new era” for the department, according to Delene, who said he hopes this project will lead to many more opportunities in the future.

“This is a significant project with a lot of measurements, and a lot of top-notch scientists, that highlights what we can do at the University of North Dakota, in terms of airborne research,” Delene said.