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Bankhead National Forest


Note: Guidance for proposing field research at this observatory is now available. Read Appendix E of the ARM Field Campaign Guidelines, starting on Page 27. Guest instruments will not be supportable at this observatory until late spring/early summer 2024. For the latest information about the observatory’s status, please read this ARM article.

The Bankhead National Forest (BNF) atmospheric observatory is a long-term mobile observatory being established by the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility in northwestern Alabama. The BNF is currently expected to be operational for five years, starting in 2024.

Scientists will use data from the BNF to learn about clouds, aerosols, and land-atmosphere interactions, which in turn will lead to improvements in models of the Earth’s climate.

Studying Coupled Aerosol-Cloud-Surface Processes

A workshop in August 2018 identified the Southeast as a priority region of interest for further study by ARM. The Southeast is a region with abundant atmospheric convection, yet the land surface, boundary layer, vegetation, and aerosol properties are markedly different from those seen at ARM’s fixed observatory in Oklahoma, allowing for opportunities to explore new research questions.

The U.S. Department of Energy selected a multi-institutional site science team, led by Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, to develop the science plan and initial research project for the BNF observatory. This team, supported by ARM and Atmospheric System Research (ASR), provided scientific guidance to ARM on the BNF’s location and measurement strategy.

With the new observatory, the BNF site science team plans to improve process understanding and model representations of aerosols, clouds, and land-atmosphere interactions, together with key cross-coupling of those areas to explore land-atmosphere feedbacks and aerosol-cloud interactions.

In addition, the BNF site science team envisions the observatory as a testbed for scientists to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques and capabilities to advance earth system predictability.

Instruments and Data

The BNF observatory is expected to be installed in a phased approach with the central facility and core instrumentation operational first, and then distributed sites and/or additional advanced instrumentation installed at later dates.

ARM plans to place more than 50 instrument platforms or suites at the BNF, including:

  • Radiometers
  • Radars
  • Lidars
  • Surface meteorological instrumentation
  • Aerosol instrumentation
  • Total sky imager
  • Ceilometer
  • Radiosondes.

A 140-foot (42.7-meter) instrumented tower will sample a variety of parameters within and above the forest canopy.

Several supplemental sites with a subset of instruments will provide information about parameters outside of the forest, including heat fluxes and aerosol properties. ARM also plans to install a scanning centimeter-wavelength radar for observing precipitation over the region.

Explore BNF Instruments

ARM will transmit all data gathered at the BNF to the ARM Data Center, and they will be made freely available to the scientific community via Data Discovery.

Researchers will be able to supplement the continuous ARM observations with guest instruments during field research campaigns or by requesting increases in the frequency of measurements, such as sonde launches. Because the Bankhead National Forest is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, guest instrument activities may need additional approval. Guidance on these requirements and processes is being developed.