UMass Amherst Climatology Researchers Returning to Highest Satellite-Linked Weather Station

AMHERST, Mass. - Three UMass climatologists will return this month to the world''s highest satellite-linked weather station, on the summit of Bolivia''s highest mountain, extinct volcano Nevado Sajama. The group will haul several hundred pounds of weather instruments to the 21,500-foot peak, as part of a project aimed at gleaning scientific information from ice-core samples before the tropical ice caps melt away.

"Ice-core drilling is one way to reconstruct how climate has changed, similar to the growth records in a tree''s rings," says geosciences graduate student Carsten Braun, who will make the expedition with postdoctoral researchers Mathias Vuille and Douglas Hardy. The UMass researchers, who designed the weather monitoring equipment, will collaborate with scientists from Ohio State University.

Scientists perform sophisticated chemical analyses not just on the ice, but also on air bubbles trapped within it. This can give researchers information about past climatic conditions, such as global warming and air quality. The team expects to drill completely through the 400-foot-thick ice cap, which may offer clues to weather conditions that occurred 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Despite the tropical South American location, the altitude and heavy winds will require the team to bring along Arctic survival gear. Temperatures may fall to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The ascent is expected to take about four days, and will be followed by approximately a week''s work on the summit. While conducting experiments, the UMass team will provide daily updates on its World Wide Web site, which is expected to be the highest-altitude Web site in the world, and will include text and photos. (A satellite phone will allow telephone communications as well as real-time email.)

The team will service the weather monitoring equipment on the Nevado Sajama, help conduct the ice drilling experiments, then part company with the other researchers and ascend a second mountain, Nevado Illimani, where they will install a second remote weather station. Like the first station, the Illimani station will feed weather information back to the Amherst campus via a satellite located 24,000 miles above the earth. The day-to-day weather data is used in conjunction with the ice-core samples to understand past climate changes.

NOTE: The team will depart for Bolivia on Tues., June 10, but will be reachable via e-mail by approximately June 17. Telephone interviews may be arranged once the team has reached the summit.