Two UMass Amherst Graduate Students Fly Into Hurricane Isabel To Do Reconnaissance

AMHERST, Mass. - Two graduate students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst are members of a team performing hurricane reconnaissance through Hurricane Isabel, which is expected to make landfall in the U.S. later this week.

Beth Kerr, of Florida, and Dani Esteban, of Barcelona, Spain, are graduate students in electrical engineering and are part of the University’s renowned Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory (MIRSL). Kerr and Esteban are members of a team of about 20 scientists studying the hurricane, currently producing maximum sustained winds of nearly 125 miles per hour with higher gusts.

The students have flown several missions through Isabel’s eye over the last few days while based out of St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands. With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aircraft now returning to Tampa, Fla., they are slated to fly through the hurricane again later this week. The students’ role on the team is to operate two instruments designed and built at UMass Amherst. One is a microwave radiometer, which measures surface wind speed and rain rate; the second is a vertically profiling Doppler radar, which will map 3-D wind fields within the hurricane. Isabel is among the largest hurricanes for which the UMass equipment has been utilized.

Kerr and Esteban are contributing to two research projects being conducted on Hurricane Isabel: the first is called Ocean Winds, a NOAA experiment to study the radar characteristics of the ocean surface under strong winds; the second is CBLAST (coupled boundary layer air-sea transfer), an Office of Naval Research experiment to study air-sea interaction under extreme winds. This is the second hurricane that the UMass students have studied this season: earlier they flew several missions through Hurricane Fabian prior to its impacting Bermuda.

“It’s always an exciting time of year for our students involved in hurricane research,” said Stephen Frasier, director of the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory. “This is just the kind of research experience that distinguishes our program. This year’s flights, in particular, are producing groundbreaking results for the hurricane research community, as the instruments are part of an extensive suite of measurements aimed at the detailed inner structure of hurricanes and the air-sea interface.”

NOTE: Both students can be reached by e-mail. Beth Kerr’s e-mail is kerr@mirsl.ecs.umass.edu; Dani Esteban’s e-mail is dani@mirsl.ecs.umass.edu. Messages may also be left at 413/575-0062; Esteban and Kerr will be checking their voicemail periodically and will return phone calls as cellular coverage allows.

Stephen Frasier may also be reached to discuss the research, the UMass equipment involved, and the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory at 413/545-4582.