A strange-looking contraption atop the Oakland Complex on TWU’s Denton campus monitors more than local weather conditions: It recently recorded an atmospheric pressure wave from a volcanic eruption thousands of miles away.
John Beatty (Chemistry and Biochemistry) said the university’s WeatherSTEM weather station recorded the Jan. 15 Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption in the South Pacific Ocean.
“The barometer on the station was sensitive enough to record the ‘pressure wave’ as it traveled through Denton,” he said.
Beatty said he saw posts about the pressure wave being measured around the globe and was curious to see whether TWU’s station recorded what others were seeing at the same time.
“Sound travels through air at about 760 miles per hour, and we are bout 6,350 miles from the eruption,” he said “We detected the pressure wave at about eight to nine hours after the eruption, so the pressure spikes detected definitely were from the eruption. The timings match up from what you would expect as the waves travel through the atmosphere at those speeds.”
Closer to home, the TWU WeatherSTEM station has recorded significant weather events such as the February 2021 ice storm. Beatty drew a comparison between last year’s ice storm and the winter storm that occurred a few weeks ago:
“When plotted against the temperature of the whole year, you can see the ice storm in February 2021 was a significant extended weather event for this area,” Beatty said. “The recent ice storm we had was a small blip in comparison.
“The bigger question: Is this a trend that will continue as the global climate continues to change,” he added. ”This is valuable data for TWU students to have access to, especially students in our STEM and Environmental Chemistry programs.”
Drew Townsend (Risk Management) said TWU’s Emergency Management Department got the weather station in 2019 to assist with weather monitoring on the Denton campus. He said one of the station’s most helpful features is that it can show the locations of lightning strikes around campus.
“This is helpful for athletics practices and games to know when they need to suspend activities and go inside due to the proximity of lightning,” Townsend said.
The system also includes cameras on top of Guinn Hall that point to the south and west.
“You can see storms rolling in, watch a live stream, watch a time lapse,” Townsend said. “All of that can be seen on the website for the WeatherSTEM.”
Story by Karen Garcia
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