PAOC Spotlights

DEAPS Extreme Weather and Climate 2011

Wed September 7th, 2011

A select few of MIT's class of 2015 got an early first taste of PAOC August 23-26, with this year's EAPS FPOP (Freshman Pre-Orientation Program) Discover Earth, Atmosphere and Planetary Sciences: Extreme Weather & Climate. This 3 day program is designed to provide incoming freshmen with the opportunity to explore the science of weather and climate through an exciting combination of lectures and fluids experiments, providing a glimpse into some of the most interesting and challenging aspects of research in PAOC.

This year was perhaps a little more "Extreme" than most with the students experiencing an earthquake (Day 1) and Hurricane Irene (Day 3), with MIT closed and MIT presidential convocation cancelled. None the less, judging from the pictures and participants comments, everyone learned lots and had a great time so that hopefully we shall see some of these faces exploring further opportunities for undergraduate study in EAPS between now and 2015.


Welcome  (by the earthquake....)
The students were welcomed by the tremors of an earthquake. This is a very "extreme" event for new England but the epicenter was over Virginia and the program started as planned with activities centered around measuring the height of the Green Building, the striking I.M.Pei designed home of MIT's Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Department. Up on the roof, with panoramic views of Boston and Cambridge on all sides, senior lecturer Lodovica Illari, abley assisted by undergraduate TA's Reena Joubert and Maddie Clark, provided instruction on how to take weather observations. Students then had an opportunity to measure temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction with portable weather stations and balloons. Combined with measurements of the air pressure at the foot of the building, the students were then coached in how to calculate its height. As always the timed drop of miscellaneous objects (an alternative height-finding technique) culminated in the spectacle of a doomed watermelon plummeting the 18 floors to the ground.
In the evening, following a barbeque dinner on the Walker Hall patio and a chance to discuss the first afternoons activities, everyone headed over the river for a fun evening outing to Boston for ice cream

The first full day of the program was dedicated to the subject of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and winter blizzards. This year Prof. Paul O'Gorman spoke about climate and the hydrological cycle, explaining his research looking at what rising global mean temperatures might mean for the intensity and distribution of storms. His lecture was followed by an activity centered around a rotating fluids laboratory demonstration of an analogue to a tropical cyclone (hurricane) and analysis of wind-speed data from 2008 hurricane Bertha. With a tour of MIT in the afternoon, an evening trip beginning at Fire and Ice in Harvard Square rounded out the days activities.

Day 2
The morning focus was on current issues of climate research. Dr Jeff Scott described his experience working with climate models: What they are? How they work? How to interpret them and their role in helping to forecast conditions in a changing world. Afterwards, students were back in the rotating fluids lab exploring the balance between rotation and differences in heating that lead to Earth's general circulation. Again, participants had the opportunity to work in small groups and get their hands wet while discussing their results with faculty including Prof. John Marshall, graduate students Ryan Abernathey, Vince Agard, Laura Meredith, Morgan O'Neill, Allison Wing,  Hamed Alemohammad and peers. In the afternoon participants travelled from Cambridge to Pinkham Notch, Jackson, NH where overnight accommodation was at a lodge at the foot of Mt. Washington.


Day 3
On the final morning, after a delicious breakfast at the lodge, the final day of the program was spent on a hike up to the Mt Washington Observatory. This 6000+ ft mountain peak is known as a place where "extreme weather" is the norm and still holds the record for the strongest all-time surface wind speed observed by man (over 230 miles per hour). Here participants, accompanied by EAPS researcher, geologist Dr. Frank Dudas had a direct experience of the mountain environment, ecology and geology. It was a beutiful sunny day just before Irene dumped over 10" of rain over the area.  The Ellis River near the lodge, where the group spent the night, overflew and flooded the area - see movie.