Sunday, August 11, 2019

OTREC? CERTO! - The Benefit of Field Campaigns

I arrived in Costa Rica last Sunday, three days after defending my PhD thesis. Since then, I have tried to make weather forecasts for the OTREC operations region, I got excited when thunderstorm were rolling in and their downdrafts brought some much anticipated cool gusts, I had fun monitoring our first research flight form the ground and sifting through the incoming data, I got to be on a research flight myself, and I brushed up on my cloud naming skills. Plus, of course, I've been bathing in post-defense bliss!

OTREC is my first field campaign - I spent the last few years mostly sitting in front of my laptop, never actually experiencing the warm, moist tropical atmosphere in which tropical cyclones (the subjects of my PhD research) can form. My tools were modeling, theory and statistics, and while I used and processed a lot of existing data, I was never involved in collecting any new data. But after barely a week I think I can already say that I won't regret participating in OTREC! 
And here's why:


Science becomes "more real"

Even if I haven't seen a tropical cyclone here, at least I get to see their "natural habitat." Having that direct connection helps build physical intuition and acts like a curiosity booster, it makes me think and ask questions about all aspects of tropical weather (much more so than I would if I were sitting in my office in New York!). 


The zen of watching the weather

Okay, I have definitely not reached zen level yet, but paying attention to the weather is exciting and relaxing at the same time - not just watching the weather (no matter how spectacular that can be!), but also learning how numerical weather model output, soundings and satellite images map onto eyeball weather observations.


Appreciate the data!

As a consumer of data, it is quite eye-opening to see how much planning and effort is involved in gathering data in the field. You (or at least I) just don't think about this when your data download script is finally working and the bits are flowing in. Growing your own food makes you savor it more, and the same is true for data!


People

While OTREC's primary purpose is to advance science, I find that the personal connections I've made add enormous value to my time here. Sometimes it's things like a yoga class or trips to the supermarket that can lead to (scientific) friendships and collaborations. The social value of field campaigns is not something any grant proposal would talk about, but it is as real as their scientific value!



The NCAR G-V and me, just after landing



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