Tuesday, November 27, 2018

United Nations agency to honor UAF weather station

Alan Tonne stands in the Fairbanks Experiment Farm weather station.
He records weather information daily at 8 a.m. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
The Fairbanks Experiment Farm operates the longest continuously running weather observation station in Alaska.

The farm has been steadfastly recording weather data since July 1, 1911. The station is unusual because of its long-term record of weather data collected in essentially the same location — a small, fenced area in front of the farm’s old visitor center.

Reliable weather data collected over a long period of time in the same location is valuable to climate scientists and others, says John Walsh, one of several University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists who will speak at a Nov. 30 recognition ceremony for the station.

The station is one of four long-term observing stations in the U.S. the World Meteorological Organization will honor this year. An awards ceremony will take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 30 in Room 501 of the Akasofu Building, on the campus’ West Ridge. The public is invited.

The World Meteorological Organization is a United Nations agency that supports the worldwide collection of reliable weather data for science. In 2017, it started recognizing “centennial stations,” or stations that had collected weather data in one location for more than 100 years.

The maximum and minimum temperatures are collected with a
digital thermometer. All other weather records are gathered
on site. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
Walsh is the chief scientist for the International Arctic Research Center and an expert in climate change and sea ice. Relatively few weather stations have that long record because after commercial airports opened, most stations moved to an airport, he said. The National Weather Service in Fairbanks moved from Weeks Field to the Fairbanks International Airport in 1951.

“The station down there is key,” he said of the farm. “The long, consistent record is important when you’re looking at the difference of 1 to 2 degrees over 100 years.”

Walsh has used the station’s records to study changes in snow cover. When the ground gains or loses its snow cover, daily temperatures can change by 10 degrees because snow reflects more sunlight. He studied the records for sudden jumps of temperature that could indicate snow cover or a lack of it.

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist for the university, has used the station’s records to look at changes in the growing season. The growing season at the station has lengthened by 23 days over the last 50 years, from 1969 to 2018, he said. The longer growing season is not as pronounced at the airport, which is only four miles away at a slightly lower elevation. The freeze-free season has only been extended by 10 days.

Glenn Juday, a retired UAF forest ecologist, said experiment stations around the country began collecting weather information because of its importance to farmers. When Fairbanks’ earliest residents arrived, no one really knew what would grow in Alaska’s climate or how long the growing season was.

“It was considered essential data,” he said.

Alan Tonne shows how he records the weather information.
Juday has used the weather records to study how temperature, precipitation and other weather events affect the growth and health of trees of the same year.

“Essentially half of the variability of the growth of the tree is connected to weather parameters,” he said.

Carven Scott, who heads the National Weather Service in Alaska, will present a bronze plaque to Alan Tonne, the farm’s manager and principal collector of weather data over the past 13 years. Tonne takes the weather observations at 8 a.m. each day. Maximum and minimum temperatures are measured electronically, but Tonne measures evaporation and wind volume, precipitation and snow depth on site.

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm took over weather observation duties in 1911 from the Episcopal Church, which had collected weather information beginning in 1904. The experiment farm remained the only weather station in Fairbanks until the U.S. Weather Bureau opened an office in downtown Fairbanks in 1929. The farm’s weather station is now one nine active cooperative observing stations in the Fairbanks area that provide community weather information.

A total of seven stations have been recognized in the U.S. as centennial stations. Others recognized this year are in at the Buffalo Bill Dam in Wyoming; Purdum, Nebraska; and Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.

Hot tea and refreshments will be available at the Nov. 30 event.

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