Not in Texas anymore……

This blog has suffered in attention deficit along with a number of other things during the first couple of weeks. The schedule is pretty hectic with all the usual fieldwork usual frenetic running instruments, tracking data, making ongoing modifications and tweaks as the monster that is Cloud Lab makes it’s way across the southern US. On top of all of this is the filming malarky which brings another dimension to the table. That said, I have never used an insert net in my life, nor a bat detector and last night we did a dusk flight during which the focus was the migration of moths which tends have a link to the passage of cold fronts in these parts. After deploying the bat detector (basically this is a very wide range microphone at the end of a 50 metres of cable) Sarah explained the idea around the flight and who the various gadgets will do their thing. Dr Sarah Beynon (@DrSarahBeynon) is the Cloud Lab Bug Lady, as opposed to Jennifer Kraul (@batgrrl) who is our very own Bat Lady, they are in close cahoots about the plans and exactly what they expect. Much to our amazement as we sailed along at around 500 ft above the ground a moth flew into the gondola. When it did we lept into action, Sarah grabbed one of the spare insect nets and I hunted out a “kill jar”. Using a headtorch to attract it, the moth was successfully bagged and we await identification.The evening was topped by seeing a small rattlesnake which had been spotted asleep before it got dark, a word to note, the area was clearly marked out so that those walking from the airship were very aware of its location.

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Excuses excuses…..

I am managing to catchup for this episode sitting in one of the various chase vehicles which are following the airship as it heads on up into the hills on the way to Las Cruces via El Paso. The bus is driven by a wonderful young lass called Dona, she looks after us and we do likewise. She has a great sense of humour and needs one to put up her passengers.

Heading west on the I10 interstate, we have just crossed another time zone, from central into mountain time, it seems like a very long time since we left eastern time. It’s strange as a very long time ago, in another life shall we say, I was due to go to El Paso but the show got cancelled, it did mean more time in Tuscon which was good. As nice as Tuscon is, it ain’t El Paso. Percy, the airship sound guy did a shoot in El Passo and said it was a great place to “hang out”, unfortunately I suspect on this occasion, an airfield in the outskirts of El Paso (Fabens) will simply be somewhere to swap our filter sampling units and refuel the airship, vehicles and people.

Happy Birthday to the Cloud Lab Meteorologist, Felicity Aston.
Today is in fact Felicity’s (@Felicityaston) birthday, she is the lead presenter onboard the airship. You might say that she is the leader of our expedition which she is very well suited for since her day job is running expeditions. Less than a year ago (if memory serves) she completed the first solo crossing of Antarctica under her own steam, earning her a place in the Guinness Book of Records (LINK). Whilst on the subject, it will be Dona’s birthday on  Sunday.


Tomorrow I head off west with the airship leaving the rest of the team in Las Cruces, this is to allow us to maintain the dataset all the way across the states from coast to coast. This should actually give me a little more time to put “pen to paper”

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Farewell to Florida

I have spent a great many hours watch the world go by at low level and I am often transported back to my schooldays sitting in Alan Leedham’s geography lessons. For this trip the ones that immediately spring to mind are river meanders and ox-box lakes, the former is in full force and I haven’t spotted the latter, but am sure that I will do so soon. Yesterday we crossed over the Suwannee river which was greeted with a bust of song from Chris, needless to say (and probably obvious from the intro) this river certainly takes a long route across the land.

This morning we took off from Marianna airfield and continued on our way through the state of Florida, I have to admit my ignorance on the state, when we landed last night we had moved into central time. I had expected that this time zone transition would happen further west. It did give us the added bonus of an extra hour in bed this morning which was most welcome.

I’m currently sat in our U-Haul truck with Sam who is one of the project runners, the trip from Pensacola to New Orleans this afternoon was weight limited so I travelled by road, apparently this ended up as part of the story of that leg of the journey! Another great sunset along the way, which I presume Felicity, Jeff and Lawrence were all witness to.2013-09-23 17.19.27P1150633

Sam in his chariot                                             Lift off from Pensacola

The road to Mobile crosses Mobile bay just north of Gulf Shores includes an impressively long bridge and very long bridge indeed…..


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Chocks away for the Cloud Lab: Installation and test flight in the bag.

It is going to be quite difficult to avoid this sounding like Big Brother, a number of people have used the phrase “day xxx in the Cloud Lab”…….  Overall the simplest way to describe how our journey will progress it’s way across the US of A is perhaps akin to a road or coach trip. There is a pair of episode plans which has been drawn up over the past few weeks by the production team. Of course this is all built around the weather on the day, just like a research campaign there are a number of objectives which can accommodate different weather. So, as usual there is certainly an element of luck in the whole endeavor.

We arrived a few days ago with an awful lot of Pelicases containing all sounds and vision kit These seem to be the choice of the production team and we have some many different shapes and sizes that they are festooned with brightly coloured camera tape so that they go to the right place.

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It turns out that the most reliable method of moving equipment is as checked luggage, home for the first few days was Titusville which is on the Space Coast, we are operating from the Space Port which is a few miles from the NASA Kennedy Space Centre. In fact the rather awesome sight of the NASA VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) greets us as soon as we are airborne from the apron.


First, as I have already hinted at we had to rig the gondola. The front section is act as a bit of a studio whilst the rear will be home for most of the instrument suite. This does mean that there is some management of the ‘real estate’ inside the gondola so that we can get everything up and running ASAP. Following this we did a short test flight, just to check everything over,this also meant that the guys that I am hugely indebted to for the installation work got a “trip up”. Heartfelt thanks to Greg Kok (DMT – the aerosol kit), Taylor Jones (Sigmaspace LIDAR), John Miller (NOAA – greenhouse gases) and Jennifer Krauel (aka “Bat Lady”). Jennifer also took some great photos during the installation period too.


So all in all it is not much different from other field campaigns I have done over the years, lots of juggling (and it’s not finished yet!).  I have to say that I am much more used to working with our own research aircraft as opposed to the gondola which is relatively new to me so it was always going to be a case of ‘suck it and see’. Remembering that I had already had some familiarisation with a similar gondola in the Skyship shed in Elizabeth City all of which seems a very long time ago now. Myself and Greg (another shout out to that man!) spent a couple of very productive days toiling over the rack. I still have a list of jobs to do to complete the installation but this is slowly going down.


As well as the installation team, we will be meeting up with a number of folks who will be contributing in some way……

Dr David Smith and Finlay MacGuire who work at NASA Kennedy has provided coupons loaded with bacteria and we will expose them inside and outside to investigate the protection afforded by the clouds which in turn prolong the lifetime of these bacteria. David was interviewed by the local TV station

Jennifer Krauel who is a Ph.D. candidate in the McCracken lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is the Cloud Lab bat expert, she has a bat detector which we will lower over the side of the gondola and records the bats ultrasonic calls as they fly around below us.

There are more folks too, but I have work to do back at Dunnellon Airfield, the GoogleMaps image of which appears to have an airship parked up, but this can’t be our Cloud Lab as we only arrived yesterday…… our perhaps it is??

You can follow progress via twitter @BBCCloudLab

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In the tiny space between #Arran2013 and the Cloud Lab Expedition.

Yesterday morning we climbed about the bus for the short journey from Lochranza to Brodick and then a hop over the water to Ardrossan and our onward journeys.


The previous night had been the course hand-in deadline,followed by the awarding of RS80 radiosondes to the victorious team 1 (aka – “Goat Hell”) who got the highest score in the weather game. After the obligatory course feedback (surveymonkey is your friend) and final instructions for the homeward trip, the whole group headed up the road to the Lochranza Hotel for a celebratory drink (or two!).

In the last week we have measured a wide range of atmospheric phenomena, pressure, temperature (dry and wet bulb), wind (speed/direction), radative fluxes (solar and longwave) as well as some, what I delicately termed, balloonchucking and a trip to the highest point on the island which is Goat Fell


Onward journeys.

The Reading team led by @EllieHighwood took to their heels and hit out to Glasgow on the train while the Leeds party climbed aboard the coach. An early evening report from Ellie confirmed that they just caught their connection in Wolverhampton as they headed back southwards. We had a painless drive back to Leeds where we were greeted by rain. The outward coach departed Leeds in the rain too, but I am assured that it didn’t rain for eight days!

What next…….?

So straight off the coach, into the lab to collect the final bits and pieces for my next trip.


A recent announcement from the BBC Media centre provides a brief description of Cloud Lab…..

“Cloud Lab: A team of scientists will be taking to the skies in the world’s largest airship – the Skyship 600 – for BBC Two’s ambitious atmospheric experiment – Cloud Lab. Flying from coast to coast, across the USA, in a month-long expedition, the team of British scientists will scrutinise insect life, the relationship between trees and the air we breathe as well as predicting where a hurricane is likely to hit the land. The team, which includes entomologists, weather specialists and professional explorers is also hoping to shed light on the creation of clouds and the relationship between diverse ecosystems and weather.”

After some technical delays, the airship is ready and awaiting our arrival on Sunday afternoon. I will drive south this evening for the morning flight with a bunch of the production team. It is somewhat traditional that a large fraction of my luggage is not clothing but electrical cables, bits of pipe, assorted tube fittings (stainless steel, brass AND PTFE), three laptops, an aerosol spectrometer and ‘whathaveyou’. There are a couple of challenging days ahead of us before lift-off on Wednesday and just like the past week in Lochranza we are hostage to the weather. If the wind is too strong we can’t get access to the gondola, you could think of it as a giant wind sock that swings round with the wind, the nose is secured to a mobile tower which is fitted to a support vehicle and this sits a top a turntable.

Anyway here we go, all aboard……..

Track our progress via @BBCCloudLab

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