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Tech Tuesday

Weather Chaser Hits the Road

Alabama has a new tool for tracking storms, researchers link sustainable practices to climate management and more on the secret life of plants.

Weather forecasters are constantly on the look out for ways to improve what they do - believe it or not. One interesting new tool is a kind of mobile radar that storm chasers can use out on the road and the system offers a much better picture of just what is happening inside a storm - or rather right behind it.

The new mobile weather radar will be deployed by the University of Alabama in Huntsville through the school's Earth System Science Center. The mobile radar - or X-band radar - will look straight up into storms as they pass over scientists. Storms will be probed to better understand their dynamics, because the radar will over more details in cloud systems. Storms are capable of dropping a lot of rain or snow after the initial main storm system has moved on. This is a problem for forecasters, because not all main storm fronts create this phenomenon.

Data gathering should be starting soon for winter storms and the system will be online into the summer. Storm data gathering is the first step toward improving the prediction models being used by meteorologists around the country. This latest mobile tool is part of an arsenal of mobile weather radar implements used by researchers.

Sustainability and Climate Management. Sustainable farming practices, which many farmers use to protect the soil on their land could have a climate benefit, according to researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories. Those scientists are exploring the potential for the earth's soils to sequester carbon. They believe with new land use practices, soil could cut U.S. carbon emissions by as much as 25%.

This is a hot topic because a lot of climate scientists refuse to recognize ag's role in this very issue. Even in the big Copenhagen event, ag's role was pretty much ignored. However, in Congress where climate policy for the U.S. is being set, this issue is getting more attention.

In a new paper from the ORNL and LANL researchers, published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, the researchers talk about using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy to measure the soil carbon. They are fine-tuning the technology for this chore, and the benefit would be a field tool that could measure soil carbon. One issue facing the carbon sequestration supporters is how to measure it across a wide geography with so many different conditions. Using LIBS, the researchers also hope to identify the ag practices that best sequester carbon on the farm.

Plants Remember. There's a group of researchers around the country that look at how plants interact under a wide range of issues. From that they've learned all kinds of facts ranging from how much nitrogen a grassy weed uses versus a fledgling crop plant, or what happens to plants when they face competition. Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that plants actually respond to the past.

In the February 2010 issue of The American Naturalist, the researchers published their work after modeling four years of population fluctuations in four species common to the Michigan dry sand prairie. They looked at how plants interacted with each other and found that plants tended to compete in summer, fall and spring. However, the most interesting thing was that they found that the more crowded together plants were in one growing season, the more their growth was enhanced the following year.

These time-lagged interactions may be due to effects from plant litter, Farrer said. After plants die back over the winter, the dead plant material starts to decompose, releasing nutrients that encourage plant growth. The litter layer also holds in soil moisture, a boon to plants struggling to survive in the dry environment.

Just another fascinating look at how plants interact.

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