Engineer Takes Part in Eclipse Experiment

For most of us Monday’s solar eclipse was a wonderful spectacle, but some scientists were out gathering data, too. Holly Oldroyd, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, joined a team led by Chad Higgins at Oregon State University to measure atmospheric fluxes during the eclipse.

As night turns to day and back there are changes in atmospheric temperature and pressure, water vapor and carbon dioxide, and in emissions from soils and plants into the atmosphere. Higgins’ experiment aimed to find out whether the same kinds of changes take place during the very short “night” created by the total solar eclipse. Normally these measurements are taken over time spans of half an hour or so, so the team, which also included researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had to come up with ways to make accurate measurements over a couple of minutes.

Studying these atmospheric fluxes could help us better understand the basics principles of atmospheric turbulence, the researchers said.

Their equipment, including a 12-mast array, 50-meter optical temperature sensing mast and LIDAR devices, spread over pasture near Corvallis, Oregon. The project was funded entirely by voluntary contributions of time, equipment and money.

“The eclipse was surreal,” Oldroyd said in an email. “The gold light on 360 degrees of horizon, was far different from dusk or dawn light. It is tough to explain, but since the sun was not low on the horizon before getting blocked, it was a totally new experience.  We saw shadow bands, a few stars and of course the halos. I only wish it lasted longer.”

The researchers plan to present the results at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in New Orleans in December. Oldroyd said that they have also discussed a follow-up experiment for the 2019 eclipse in Chile.

More information

Solar Eclipse 2017: From Coast to Coast (See “Studying the Eclipse” entry) (Wall St Journal)

Scientists to study ‘breath of the land’ during eclipse in Corvallis, Oregon (Statesman-Journal)

Eclipse gives OSU team chance for rare research (Register-Guard)

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