Fort Drum hosts NASA for eclipse

The moon covers the sun during a total solar eclipse Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, in Cerulean, Ky. On April 8, 2024, the sun will pull another disappearing act across parts of Mexico, the United States and Canada, turning day into night for as much as 4 minutes, 28 seconds. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FORT DRUM — As part of the solar eclipse today, NASA researchers will conduct studies at Fort Drum on the eclipse’s impact on the atmosphere.

Jennifer W. Fowler, center range flight safety lead at NASA’s Langley Center in the Uninhabited Aircraft Systems Operations Office, said the researchers will be directly sensing the atmosphere.

Usually this is done with balloons, and although balloons will be used by the University at Albany on Fort Drum, NASA will use drones.

Fowler said using drones allows NASA to measure short-term weather events. Balloons, on the other hand, go higher than the 10,000 feet the researchers are hoping to focus on with the drones.

“An eclipse actually is a well-timed natural experiment,” she said. “So we know we’re going to turn off the sun’s energy and that’s going to reach the surface and there will be an effect. and what is that effect?”

The NASA team wants to know where the atmosphere is impacted, where there is no longer a temperature change, and at what altitude is there an impact on wind.

Fowler said this is her fourth eclipse, but the first time she’ll be using a drone.

Her team is looking to focus on the atmosphere lower than 10,000 feet. In prior research they have focused on higher parts of the atmosphere using balloons.

“We know we see a temperature change at the surface, but at what altitude does that no longer hold true?” she said. “I’d like to see, do we see a wind pattern and is that dependent on altitude? Because in the past, I focused more on stratospheric effects and not on the lower troposphere, near the surface of the Earth effect. So we’ve got an inkling of what we might see but we’re pretty excited to collect our own data and see what happens.”

Fowler said that they picked Fort Drum because they looked at where the path of totality was going and where there was restricted airspace as well to co-locate themselves with a balloon team.

“With the amount of time we had to prepare for this, to ask the (Federal Aviation Administration) and get all the waivers and authorizations to fly to higher altitudes above 400 feet, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve that goal. So in restricted airspace, we can actually shoot for as high altitude as we could get,” she said.

Temperatures may drop by about four or five degrees, Fowler said.

The public, along with people living on Fort Drum, will not be allowed to be on the scene with NASA because of it being in restricted airspace on the military post.

“We want to make sure that we’re careful of who’s out there,” she said.


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