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Racing With the Typhoon - Storm Strands Scientists (Song)

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Published on Oct 31, 2007

Racing With the Typhoon
Storm Strands Scientists on Taiwan Mountain

by Christine Reilley, Peter Arzberger, Tim Kratz, and Fang-Pang Lin Set high in the mountains of northern Taiwan, Yuan Yang Lake (YYL) has been capturing the attention of scientists for more than 60 years. The subtropical lake, nearly untouched by humans, experiences typhoons each year and is surrounded by ancient cypress forest—fertile ground on which limnologists, botanists, and climatologists can conduct long-term studies of its rich environments and ecosystems. For this reason, scientists from the North Temperate Lakes (NTL) Long-Term Ecological Research project and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have been traveling thousands of miles during the past year to study YYL. In collaboration with their Taiwanese counterparts at the Academia Sinica Institute of Botany, the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute (TFRI), and the Taiwan National Center for High-Performance Computing (NCHC), they spent the past year constructing the first-of-its-kind global lake monitoring network by establishing wireless connections to sensors in YYL and several lakes in northern Wisconsin. YYL is particularly attractive to limnologists, because a single typhoon can drop more than a meter of precipitation on the 4.5-m--deep lake, causing rapid flushing. This contrasts with the Wisconsin lakes, which have much longer water retention times. This trip to YYL required one mission: to deposit wireless sensors in YYL that will gather long-term data about dissolved oxygen at various depths and augment existing sensors for barometric pressure, wind speed, and temperature at various lake depths. The sensors transmit data to databases at NCHC that can be accessed via a web interface from anywhere in the world, allowing scientists to access frequent data about YYL from their desktop. Just a few months earlier, sensors acquired data during a typhoon, recording phenomenon not observed in the temperate lakes of Wisconsin. During this visit, the researchers were looking to continue their collection of exciting data. The challenge, however, lay in reaching the remote YYL before a typhoon hit I-Lan county, where the lake is located. Storm trackers showed the typhoon was combining with a monsoon and was expected to reach YYL Monday, October 25—the day they were planning to visit. "It was a race with the typhoon. Considering the kind of damage typhoons cause and that Yuan Yang Lake is in the mountains, the roads leading to the lake may not have been passable if we waited until after the storm," said team member Tim Kratz, lake ecologist and director of the University of Wisconsin Trout Lake Station, a field site for the NTL Research Station in Wisconsin. Concerns about the typhoon, however, hardly diminished their desire to venture to YYL. "What's a little rain?" said Kratz. Colleague Fang-Pang Lin, Grid Group lead at the NCHC, agreed. "We must try, try to get as close to the sensors as we possibly can. If we succeed, all the better." Kratz and Lin would be joined by three associates on the expedition: Tim Meinke, aquatic botanist and buoy technician at the Center for Limnology's Trout Lake Station, Dave Balsiger, NTL information management specialist, and Peter Arzberger, director of the UCSD life sciences initiative.

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